April 28, 2011

Supreme Court Recognizes 1st Judicial Circuit for Efficiently Processing, Managing Case Load

Presiding Judge Gary Dial, on behalf of the 1st Judicial Circuit, accepted the Daniel O'Toole Award and the Permanency Award, presented by Supreme Court judge Zel M. Fischer and Deputy State Courts Administrator Gary Waint during a special ceremony at 2:30 p.m. yesterday at the Scotland County Courthouse in Memphis. This is the third time the 1st circuit, which includes Clark, Schuyler and Scotland counties, has won the O'Toole Award and the third time the 1st circuit has won the Permanency Award.

The O'Toole Award is given to circuits for efficiently managing and processing cases during fiscal 2010.

"Daniel O'Toole left as his legacy his commitment to an efficient judiciary," Fischer said. "This commitment is crucial - timely case processing is fundamental to an effective judicial system and to justice itself. The staff and judges in this circuit should be commended for their commitment to providing timely justice to the public."

Missouri's case-processing time standards, which became effective in 1997, serve as guidelines for the time various kinds of cases should take to handle. For example, half of civil cases should be disposed within 12 months, and 90 percent of civil cases should be disposed within 18 months.

The guidelines recognize that some cases are more complex and require more time. They are designed as tools, therefore, to achieve the overall goals of efficiency, productivity and quality of justice rather than as absolute requirements.

The O'Toole Award, named for the late judge's service as the first chair of the time standards monitoring committee, recognizes the success of the circuits in handling cases in a timely manner. To qualify, a circuit must achieve at least five of the 10 case-processing time standards and must not be more than 5 percent from achieving the remaining standards.

The 1st circuit, which met all 10 standards, is one of 14 judicial circuits to receive the O'Toole Award for fiscal 2010. The remaining circuits will be honored during the coming months.

The Permanency Award is given to circuits for successfully holding timely hearings during fiscal 2010 in child abuse and neglect cases in which children removed from their homes are to be reunited with their families or are to be placed in another permanent home as soon as possible.

"Timely hearings are critical when children are removed from their homes and are to be reunited with their families or are to be placed in other permanent homes as soon as possible," Fischer said. "The nature of these cases can make it very difficult to hold timely hearings unless the officials involved exert strong and continuous efforts to do so, and those courts that achieve the highest success deserve recognition for their difficult achievement."

Waint added, "The success this circuit has achieved is a testament to the leadership and hard work of judges, juvenile officers, clerks, children's division workers and other support staff. In the five years since we have instituted the awards, the timeliness of hearings throughout the state has increased. Of the more than 38,000 required hearings, 98 percent of them were held on time. This is an increase of 6 percent from 2006, when we instituted the award."

The hearing time frames apply to six types of hearings and vary depending on the type of hearing. For example, courts should hold a hearing to determine whether a child safely can return home within three business days from the date the child is taken into protective custody. Another time frame provides that courts should hold a permanency hearing to decide a child's permanent placement within 12 months from the date the child is taken into protective custody. These time frames were developed based on recommendations from the Commission on Children's Justice.

In evaluating what circuits qualify for the permanency awards, the circuits first were placed in size classes based on the total number of hearings that were due to be held during a particular time period. A circuit then had to rank among the top two in its size class to qualify. The 1st circuit is one of 17 judicial circuits to receive the award this year. The remaining circuits will be honored during the coming months.

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