Midyear Meeting

'De-lawyering' of problem-solving courts suggested by Delaware chief justice

Myron Steele addresses the ABA House of Delegates.
Video from ABANow.org

Chief Justice Myron Steele of the Delaware Supreme Court addressed the ABA House of Delegates on Monday in a speech moved to the beginning of the session so he could return to his state following a courthouse shooting in Wilmington.

Speaking on behalf of the Conference of Chief Justices, Steele said court funding is essential, yet lawmakers and the public are not getting the message. He cited a study finding that the public generally believes state court systems are inefficient because they exist only for certain groups’ benefit, including the lawyers.

Steele said it’s key for members of the bar to encourage their clients, including employers and unions, to advocate for the courts. These groups, he said, should be concerned about the quality of access to justice for their employees and members. The bar can also do its part, he said.

“We need the muscle that comes from organizations like the local bar association getting their clients to talk to members of the general assembly and remind them that the courts are not a stepchild for resources,” he said. Lawmakers need to be reminded that the court systems can improve or destroy their constituents’ quality of life, he added.

Steele addressed more controversial issues in a section of his speech about the proliferation of specialized courts, such as veterans courts and mental health courts. He questioned whether some of these courts can operate with fewer lawyers. It’s possible, he said, that the “de-lawyering” of problem-solving courts will be needed. Perhaps multi-disciplinary law firms can be involved, making the process more affordable, he said.

“All the songs that we sing may not be music to your ears,” he said of the suggestion. But maybe in the future a change will be needed, Steele told the delegates.

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