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I have watched in frustration as your paper and others in the city have castigated the management of our local courts while ignoring the positive developments and innovations undertaken under the stewardship of the courts’ executive officer, Ulysses B. Hammond (“Courting Disaster,” 10/1). There seems to be no end to the chorus. The resulting picture disserves your readers and the city.
Your article ignored improvements made under Hammond’s leadership to the operation of the local courts, such as the establishment of the Center for Education, Training and Development, standardized procedures for hiring, and enhanced opportunities for advancement of court personnel. A number of years ago, Hammond inaugurated Spanish-language training for “front-line” employees and judges to address the needs of a then-underserved population. This was a first in the nation. Thanks to Hammond, a more diverse staff serves (as well as uses) our courts.
Also during the last 10 years, courtrooms and hearing rooms have been renovated to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Handicapped jurors and judges may now be full participants in the programs of our courts. Sign language interpreters were made available along with TDD telephones so that deaf citizens can participate in trials and proceedings along with their hearing neighbors.
Hammond also introduced the friendly information kiosks in the lobby of the courthouse. They provide a good starting point for obtaining courthouse information. Responding to the avalanche of pro se litigants, these kiosks provide helpful how-to information for those who want to do it themselves—or simply get information about the Family Division or the Probate Division. The kiosk in front of the Probate Division office won an award for excellence in delivery of services from the Government Finance Officers Association of the Washington Metropolitan area.
Also overlooked by your article were the November 1998 citation of the Superior Court’s Domestic Violence Project by the Council of State Governments in its “America’s Best Innovations” issue of State Government News. The same organization also cited the District of Columbia Courts for effective use of total quality management principles in the operation of the courts. The Domestic Violence Project also won the Justice Potter Stewart Award of the Council for Court Excellence in 1998.
The members of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the second-oldest in the nation, have been steadfast in their support of our local courts and judiciary. The board of directors of the BADC, of which I am a member (these views are my own and not those of the BADC), has been kept informed of the travails suffered by the courts as a result of the transfer of its budgetary appropriations and oversight from the District of Columbia to the federal government. Although some glitches are to be expected in any large-scale change, the lack of insight of some of the overseers on Capitol Hill as to the havoc that would be wreaked upon the court by the transfer of some of the probation authority and a substantial part of its budget from the locals to the feds did not help. While there was no excuse for the budget shortfall that left CJA lawyers unpaid or for accounts that had not been balanced, the fault should be shared and all should join forces so that the experience is not repeated. Congress, not just our courts, has yet to learn its lesson.