Arizona Judicial Branch

Court Community Communication

Supporting public trust and confidence in the judicial system is a key function for courts, judges and judicial administrators. The Trial Court Performance Standards and Measurement System established and implemented by the National Center for State Courts and the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice require that courts perform in specific areas that support “Public Trust & Confidence.” Commentary in the American Bar Association’s new Model Code of Judicial Conduct, adopted in 2007, states, “A judge may initiate and participate in community outreach activities for the purpose of promoting public understanding of and confidence in the administration of justice.” Many states make this a requirement of judges in their codes of judicial conduct. The purpose of the Court Community Communication unit of the CMP is twofold: 1) Teach the importance of courts managing effective communication programs as a means of supporting public trust and confidence in the judicial system by making courts, open, transparent and understandable to the citizens they serve; and 2) Give court administrators a wide range of specific strategies and tactics for managing effective court community communication programs.

Course Goals
  • Learn the importance of developing and improving communication channels between the courts and the public to advance court objectives and fulfill responsibilities.
  • Learn six specific fundamental communication skills that are necessary for advancing the cause of building public trust and confidence. 
  • Acquire basic skills and techniques for making courts more understandable. Understandable courts are courts that remove barriers to access for all of their customers. 
  • Explore the various communities served by the court, understand their perceptions of the court and their needs. 
  • Define community outreach, review general patterns of how courts use community outreach, designate the main categories of common community outreach programs, and examine specific community outreach programs that have been successfully implemented in a variety of jurisdictions. 
  • Review material on public knowledge of the court system in the context of understanding the need to develop and maintain strong court public information programs that strengthen public understanding as a means of supporting public trust and confidence. 
  • Detailed understanding and working knowledge of the fundamental of court public information programs in three primary areas of 1) Web, 2) Publications, and 3) New Media.
  • Understand the traditional role the news media play in holding courts accountable and explaining the judicial system to the people. 
  • Gain an appreciation for the role that courts play in facilitating media access, explore some of the legal history of media access to the courts, and learn specific skills for managing media-court relations.
  • Understand the need for planning for communications in a crisis and learn basic principles for successful crisis communication planning. 
  • Learn the basics of court public records management and how the wide accessibility of court records on the Internet offers both positive potential for improving accessibility and a challenge for protecting privacy rights. 
  • Review the highlights of the first six units and engage in an exercise and discussion for applying court community communication principles in their home courts.

Participants who complete this course will:
  • Understand the importance of public trust and confidence in the judicial system
  • Understand the relationship between judicial independence and public trust and confidence
  • Demonstrate an understanding of Roscoe Pound’s 1906 speech to the American Bar Association, “The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice” and what it says about the importance of Court Community Communication
  • Demonstrate knowledge about the Trial Court Performance Standards in the area of Public Trust and Confidence and the relationship of these specific standards to the other four standards of Access to Justice; Expedition & Timeliness; Equality, Fairness & Integrity; and Independence & Accountability
  • Articulate how each of the following communication fundamentals is essential for supporting trust and confidence in the judicial system: 1) positive messages, 2) credibility, 3) honesty, 4) accessibility, 5) openness, and 6) understandability
  • Demonstrate some proficiency in each of these six fundamental areas
  • Understand and know basic ways of implementing a “customer service” approach to court communication
  • Identify courts’ different types of customers and how their information and access needs vary
  • Distinguish between giving legal advice (which is prohibited) and providing legal information (which should be a core mission for any court)
  • Distinguish between communication and information regarding case matters and communication and information regarding administrative or programmatic matters and how this distinction affects public communication on these matters
  • Identify audiences with special needs and understand the importance of developing processes and practices that remove barriers for these customers, including disabled citizens, citizens with language interpretation needs, and pro se litigants
  • Demonstrate an ability to explain basic legal terms and processes in layperson’s terms
  • Understand the range of technology solutions employed by courts to make themselves more understandable and accessible
  • Demonstrate knowledge about the Trial Court Performance Standards in the area of Public Trust and Confidence and Access to Justice
  • Articulate why these performance standards require the implementation of successful community outreach programs
  • Understand and identify different members of their court community
  • Understand why public opinion polls demonstrate the need for courts to engage and educate the public they serve
  • Understand how to assess community needs and available resources
  • Understand the different major types of community outreach programs in use by courts and how they are implemented 
  • Articulate specific examples of how general public knowledge of the judicial system is inadequate
  • Understand and apply the basic principles behind sound Web design, maintenance and management
  • Understand and apply the basic principles behind quality court print publications programs
  • Understand how major emerging new media have in impact on courts in three areas: 1) court proceedings, 2) ethics and conduct for judges and court personnel, and 3) efforts to support public trust and confidence in the justice system
  • Understand the traditional balance courts must achieve between openness and fair trials
  • Summarize major developments in the legal history of media access to the courts including the history of cameras in the courtroom
  • Understand basic rules governing media access to the courts
  • Apply five best practices for media relations
  • Understand what criteria the news media apply when making decisions about what is “news”
  • Understand the difference between different news media and apply specific strategies and tactics for responding to the various media
  • Understand the importance of crisis communication planning
  • Apply basic principles for preparing for a crisis
  • Understand the basics of court public records management
  • Understand the balance between public access and privacy and how this balance has become an increasing challenge in the Information Age
  • Apply basic principles of public records management.

Overall Course Exercises and Activities

• 1A – Let’s Hear from YOU: Participants introduce themselves to the group and share current position, court, administrative structure in their states, and what they hope to gain from the course
• 2A – Developing a Positive Message
• 2B – Don’t Do This: Class reviews video and critiques
• 3A – Recurring Questions: Work sheet and discussion on how to respond to recurring questions from the public
• 3B – Clarifying Legal Terms: An exercise in developing skill in explaining legal jargon and processes
• 4A – Assessing Your Community’s Needs and Resources: A table exercise for assessing needs and resources
• Activity 5A – Web Usability: A table exercise in approaching the improvement of a site.
• Activity 5B – New Media Scenarios: Participants consider three scenarios and critique each other’s responses
• 6A – Media Rules: Gaining familiarity with basic rules and how to learn more
• 6B – Media Interview Role Play: Participants work through specific scenarios and critique
• 6C – What Would You Do Different? A critique of a real media scenario caught on video
• Activity 7A – Application in Your Court: Participants explore how they will take back home everything they have learned