OLYMPIA – Earlier this year, Thurston County District Court invited representatives from the Center for Court Innovation and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to conduct a site visit to observe court proceedings and business operations and look for indications of implicit bias, specifically in regard to race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
District Court judges and supporting staff were unaware of the dates and who would be conducting the site visit to ensure an unbiased observation of the day-to-day court proceedings.
“I attended a conference about procedural justice and initially thought that this was a problem for other courts, not ours,” said Judge Brett Buckley. “Upon further reflection and discussion with my bench mates, we realized that we would be the worst judges of whether our procedures and decisions were significantly influenced by implicit bias. The only way to truly find out was to have neutral observers come and see us in action.”
According to the report, court staff displayed no apparent bias based on race or ethnicity. The court participants during the observation reflected the county population in terms of the number of participants who are minorities or of a lower socioeconomic status. In addition, judges and the court commissioner displayed all aspects of procedural justice.
The report did indicate that the court could be more sensitive to the needs of lower income people by providing advocates to assist litigants in filling out court forms and by endeavoring to avoid referring litigants to other courts for resolution of their issues.
“The report provided us with several recommendations that we are looking into and creating a plan to implement,” said District Court Administrator Jennifer Creighton. “We are already addressing signage in the courthouse and our judges and court staff will be attending procedural justice training in April to address some observations noted during the visit.”
District Court staff are already working on language access improvements and readily accessible resources for defendants and victims. Other recommendations, such as larger courtrooms and private client attorney rooms, will take longer to address.
“We are really glad we did this,” said Judge Buckley. “Working on access and justice for all our citizens makes us a better court.”
For more information, contact Jennifer Creighton, District Court Administrator, at (360)786-5225, or by email at email@example.com