American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 48, Issue 3, 86-95


Copyright © 2012 American Judges Association. Used by permission.


It is likely during our first jobs in the justice system when we realize the adjective “important” is a somewhat relative term as it relates to the issues that we face. Far from what we learned in college or law school—and further still from the topics typically reported in the media—often the most important issues we face will be found in the most common of cases. There is a saying in city government that the public’s idea of how well you are doing your job is only as good as how well you administer the water bills. That is because every household gets one, and, for many citizens, it represents the only contact that they may ever have with their local government. The same is true in criminal justice. Most people will never face a felony trial, but a relatively large number of them will be summonsed into court on lesser charges such as misdemeanor and traffic offenses. For any particular defendant, a court appearance required by summons may be his or her singular personal experience with the justice system; how we guide that defendant through the system is perhaps one of the most important issues we may ever face and says a lot about how we administer justice. Doing this well promotes judicial-branch legitimacy by increasing the defendant’s overall sense of procedural fairness, lessens system costs associated with any particular case, and avoids the compounding array of negative consequences associated with a single yet preventable incident such as the defendant’s failure to appear for court.