Change Brings Opportunity, 0120 KSBJ, 89 J. Kan. Bar Assn 1, 6 (2020)

AuthorBy Chief Justice Maria Luckert, Kansas Supreme Court.
Position89 J. Kan. Bar Assn 1, 6 (2020)

Change Brings Opportunity

89 J. Kan. Bar Assn 1, 6 (2020)

Kansas Bar Journal

January, 2020

By Chief Justice Maria Luckert, Kansas Supreme Court.

Change is in the air at the Kansas Supreme Court. Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justice Lee Johnson recently retired, and two new justices will soon join the Court. The nearly simultaneous addition of two members to a court of seven is in itself major change.

The change does not stop there, however. On December 17, 2019, Chief Justice Nuss passed the gavel to me and I swore to discharge the duties of chief justice. In assuming the constitutional responsibility of efficiently administering Kansas courts, I have taken to heart the motivational speaker's mantra: "Change brings opportunity."

One opportunity arises simply because change provides the impetus to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. Meaningful reflection includes evaluating past practices, seeking input from stakeholders and examining data about performance. The Supreme Court will soon undertake these tasks and discuss possible changes in court practices to, among other things, improve disposition time for appeals. More broadly, we will evaluate courts statewide and many of our programs.

Reflection and evaluation also require consideration of challenges faced by the Kansas courts and our profession. Some challenges arise from the systemic social problems that bring people into court. Our courtrooms are flooded with dramatic stories of Kansas children, families and communities struggling to cope with the effect of mental illness, addiction, poverty, domestic violence, human trafficking and elder abuse. Nationwide, 64 percent of people in local jails suffer from mental illness, and the rate of serious mental illness among those jailed is four to six times higher than in the general population. The rate of substance use disorders is seven times higher among those in jail than in the general population.

The resulting challenges are immense. Judges find themselves in the vanguard of those coping with major societal issues. Plus, courts face multiple other challenges as social and technological changes alter the types and complexity of the questions litigants ask courts to resolve. Despite the scope of the challenges, we must adapt and respond. If we don't, we will fail to meet our constitutional duty to provide justice.

Fortunately, we have made great strides...

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