Fall 2009-#12. Judiciary Reform: Doing Nothing Is Not an Option.

Author:By Justice John A. Dooley, III

Vermont Bar Journal


Fall 2009-#12.

Judiciary Reform: Doing Nothing Is Not an Option

THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 35, No. 3Fall 2009 Judiciary Reform: Doing Nothing Is Not an OptionBy Justice John A. Dooley, III"Everyone wants progress, it's personal change they're against." - Mark Twain

Whenever there is a proposal to reform the structure or operation of a public enterprise in order to address serious defciencies or resource limitations, one of the responses is that it is preferable to do nothing. This response typically comes from those who fnd the proposed changes unpalatable. But, regardless of the source, our experience tells us that doing nothing always has to be seen as a serious option, and any proponent of change must overcome a human presumption that no change is always best. Mark Twain exactly captured our ambivalence about change. After all, for all the problems and diffculties, the way we do things now is familiar and understandable and change involves risk and uncertainty. Even if change is better for many, it is not better for everyone. The circumstances that suggest the need for reform could be temporary, making the reform unnecessary.

As the proposals to restructure the Vermont judiciary start to emerge from the Commission on Judicial Operation in response to substantial cuts in the judicial branch budget and the looming threat of more to come, the call to reject the proposals can already be heard. Generally it is a call to reject all change- that is, a call to leave the judiciary exactly the way it has been structured and has operated in the past. It is a call to do nothing.

The point of this article is to explain why doing nothing is the worst option, one that will leave the judiciary unable to fulfll its constitutional obligation to provide justice to all of its citizens. Like it or not, the way the judiciary has operated in the past has now seriously eroded, and it won't come back. The comfortable, familiar, and understandable traits are disappearing, replaced by delay and unresponsiveness.

The judiciary is made up of sixty-three separate courts, each with its own management and staff. The judiciary normally has about 350 employees, including judges, the vast majority of whom work in courts around the state. Overwhelmingly, the budget of judiciary is made up of employee salaries and rent for...

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