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Heavican: Court aiming for equal access to justice

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The Nebraska Supreme Court’s primary goal is providing equal access to expeditious and fair justice for all Nebraskans, Chief Justice Mike Heavican said in his annual State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature Wednesday.

During the speech, Heavican highlighted the commitment of Nebraska’s Judicial Branch towards juvenile and adult probation, access, outreach, and efficiency. He also highlighted access to justice, language access programs, public engagement sessions, children in the courts, the court’s involvement in the community and court effort to improve the efficiency of adult and juvenile probation.

Heavican pointed to the Nebraska Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, the purpose of which is to eliminate any income, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age, or language gaps in accessing justice.

In Fiscal Year 2019, Nebraska provided interpreters in 65 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Although the interpreters communicated in 49 different languages, the courts face a shortage of certified court interpreters.

The Access Justice Commission also worked on public engagement sessions and outreach programming with tribal, state, and federal courts. These sessions are intended to start conversations with Nebraska’s Native American communities regarding court relationships, jurisdictional issues, and the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Heavican spoke about efforts to improve the court’s system’s response to abused and neglected children. Heavican said these program’s achievements including hosting the Children’s Summits to better the lives of children and their families in the courts.
Another success, according to Heavican, is a joint pilot program with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services in Dawson, Lancaster, and Madison Counties to increase the number of foster children reunified with their parents.

Besides establishing programs that aim to make justice accessible, Heavican emphasized the courts’ participation in the community. Some of the ways it stays involved is through argument sessions at Nebraska law schools, Boys Town, Scottsbluff High School, and South Sioux City High School.

To reduce costs, four counties have provided court clerk services for both district and county courts. This means that duties within the court system are streamlined, and court clerk positions aren’t funded by local property tax dollars. In the future, this might expand into other counties.

Judicial-related costs have also been reduced by problem-solving courts. These courts operate within all 12 of Nebraska’s Judicial Districts.

In total, there are 32 problem-solving courts in Nebraska that handle Drug and DUI Courts, Veterans Treatment Courts, Reentry Courts, and Young Adult Courts. Besides being cost-effective, these courts reduce recidivism and increase community safety, Heavican said.