Date of this Version
State Justice Institute, 2003, 159 p.
Summary of Recommendations
Access to Justice
1. Court employees, including administrators, judges, lawyers, and court personnel, should be made aware of the perceptions outlined in this study and the effects these perceptions have on the courts.
2. Significant efforts should be taken by the Nebraska State Bar Association, Nebraska Supreme Court, and Nebraska policymakers to promote legal services for Nebraska’s indigent. Specifically, the Nebraska State Bar Association should continue to actively encourage private lawyers to provide pro bono or reduced-fee services to those in need.
3. Sources should be found to fund a public service announcement (PSA) campaign designed at increasing awareness of and confidence in the courts, especially among minority groups.
1. The Nebraska Administrative Office of the Courts should collaborate with schools of higher education to design a curriculum appropriate for pre- and post-certification education for interpreters.
2. The Administrative Office of the Courts should create a “screening phase” for certification applicants, so as to increase the likelihood of passage before extensive funds are spent on testing.
3. The Administrative Office of the Courts should seek additional funds for training through federal and nonprofit granting institutions.
4. The Administrative Office of the Courts should actively encourage those desiring to take certification tests in languages not currently offered in Nebraska to take those tests in other National Consortium for Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts states that offer those particular tests so as to reduce costs in Nebraska.
5. The Administrative Office of the Courts should require records to be kept and summarized as to the number of requests made for interpreter services in each Nebraska county along with a breakdown of the number of times each language is requested.
6. Judges should be required to ask noncertified interpreters if they have read and agree to adhere to the Code of Professional Responsibility for Interpreters.
7. A policy should be adopted requiring that all judicial forms, documents, and videos used in court proceedings be drafted in English and translated into such additional languages as the Administrative Office of the Courts approves. All such translations should be made by qualified translators and approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
8. Interpreters should be encouraged to acquire an understanding of cultural variations that accompany language differences, so as to better assist non-English-speaking clients.
9. The Nebraska Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Courts should consider hiring interpreters on a full time basis, where appropriate, in order to attract more and better interpreters.
10. The Administrative Office of the Courts should actively seek to partner with other governmental agencies to hire full time or to "share" language interpreters, where a need justifies such a partnership.
11. The Administrative Office of the Courts should continue to actively recruit bilingual staff and compensate them accordingly.
12. The Nebraska Supreme Court should require that county and district courts provide court-paid interpreter services to indigents outside of court in order to communicate with their courtappointed lawyers.
13. The Administrative Office of the Courts should create a review system to rate frequently used uncertified interpreters and periodically make unannounced reviews of uncertified interpreters in the courtroom setting.
14. The Administrative Office of the Courts should provide diversity and cultural training for all judges and court employees, both at the time of their hiring and at interval periods.
15. A simple explanation of both civil and criminal court processes should be prepared in Spanish and other appropriate languages. This could be in written or video form.
16. Local Bar associations and courts should engage in outreach programs with leaders of local immigrant and culturally diverse communities to help educate their members as to the role and processes of the Nebraska court system.
17. The Administrative Office of the Courts should develop a Nebraska court-approved voir dire, such as the one developed by the NCSC, for use by judges to determine the qualifications of an uncertified interpreter.
1. Juries should be more reflective of the diversity of the community, and source lists for juries should be expanded to ensure such diversity.
2. Reimbursements should be made to low-income jurors for child care or elder care expenses incurred because of jury service.
3. The Nebraska Secretary of State should require that all persons registering to vote identify their race and ethnicity so that proper records can be kept of jury pool composition.
4. Jury commissioners should be required to collect and preserve racial and ethnic information on all persons selected for jury duty. This data should be reported yearly to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
5. Jury commissioners should be required to collect and preserve racial and ethnic information on all persons granted excuses and deferrals, reporting for jury duty, selected for voir dire panels, and seated on juries at both the county and district level. This data should be reported yearly to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
6. County and district court clerks should be required to collect and preserve racial and ethnic information on all impaneled jurors. This data should be reported yearly to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
7. Nebraska statute should require that jury pool lists be refreshed annually on a set date determined by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Criminal and Juvenile Justice Criminal
1. The Nebraska Supreme Court should adopt policies that maximize the use of the necessary demographic data in court and probation records systems so that the delivery of services provided by the courts and probation can be analyzed to determine whether there are any effects on the delivery of those services caused by race or ethnicity.
2. To the maximum extent possible, automated systems operating in law enforcement, prosecution, courts, probation, and corrections should be designed so that data can be shared with other systems. In places where that integration of automated systems is not yet possible, the prosecutor should be required to prepare a “criminal cover sheet” for all county and district court criminal cases. These cover sheets should be standardized to include such information as the age, race, and ethnicity of the defendant, and the original charge or charges.
3. The Nebraska Supreme Court should periodically direct an analysis of the services provided by the courts of this state and by probation (such as setting of bond, sentencing, probation revocations, etc.) to see if there are any effects on the delivery of those services caused by race or ethnicity.
4. An appropriate commission or task force should be created to investigate the disproportionately high minority arrest figures among Nebraska’s law enforcement agencies. In addition, Nebraska law enforcement agencies (police, sheriff, state patrol) under the leadership of the Nebraska Crime Commission or some other suitable state agency should make a concerted and sustained effort to determine whether race or ethnicity plays an improper role in arrests, and, if so, take specific and concrete action to address the matter.
5. The Administrative Office of the Courts should coordinate the collection of data, educate court participants, and continue to research areas of potential bias in the court, in order to create continuous oversight of the Nebraska court system.
6. Nebraska should adopt and enforce mandatory standards for the operation of county indigent defense systems that comply with the American Bar Association’s “Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System.”
7. Nebraska should investigate the advisability of fully implementing a system based not on monetary bond but on conditions of pretrial release that would reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant and safety of the community.
8. The Nebraska Legislature should establish guidelines to ensure equal access to adult diversion programs and to assure the confidentiality of information concerning participants in diversion programs.
1. Nebraska should continue efforts to identify and eliminate the barriers that lead to disproportionately high minority youth arrests and incarceration relative to their percentage in the population and compared to their white counterparts.
2. The Nebraska Legislature should establish guidelines to ensure equal access to juvenile diversion programs and to assure the confidentiality of information concerning participants in diversion programs.
3. Nebraska should continue efforts to identify and reduce the barriers to full and equal access to juvenile diversion.
1. The Nebraska Supreme Court and the Nebraska State Bar Association should develop and administer training to improve multicultural competence and recognition of differences for judges and all other court personnel. In addition, other agencies not under the management or control of the Nebraska Supreme Court should develop and conduct similar training. These agencies would include, but not be limited to, public defenders, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies.
1. The court systems and all individuals hiring court personnel should adopt aspirational goals to have a workforce that is reflective of a diverse community. Responsibility for attaining such objectives should be delegated to appropriate administrators and job performance evaluations should include a review of individual performance in attaining such goals.
2. The court systems should adopt, publish and enforce comprehensive policies for assuring equal opportunity and recruitment of minority employees. Monitoring systems should be established at all levels and administered to assure adherence to such policies to ensure that diversity commensurate with that of the community is being achieved.
3. A formal discrimination complaint procedure should be developed by all court systems and communicated to all employees of the court systems in personnel manuals given to all employees and on announcements posted in court offices.
4. A formal education process should be designed, developed and repeated periodically by the Nebraska Supreme Court to address differences in perception between white and minority employees.
5. All Nebraska court employment specifications and policies should be reviewed and updated to encourage bilingual skills and multicultural knowledge where such capabilities would better serve the public, and such skills should be appropriately compensated.
6. The Nebraska court systems should have, as a performance goal, an ongoing effort to recruit qualified minority applicants for managerial and supervisory positions.
7. A variety of means should be used to inform minority candidates of employment opportunities. These means should include, but not be limited to, multilingual advertisements placed in ethnic centers, churches, and other locations where minorities will be reached. All advertisements should emphasize that the court systems are equal opportunity employers.
Legal Profession Law Schools
1. While the pool of potential minority law school students for Nebraska’s law schools is relatively small, the law schools should continue and increase efforts to attract minority applicants.
2. The Nebraska State Bar Association and the two law schools in Nebraska should make every effort to identify high school and college students from Nebraska’s minority population or those graduating from a Nebraska higher education institution, to inform them about the opportunities available with legal training, and to encourage them to apply to one of the state’s law schools.
3. The Nebraska State Bar Association, the Nebraska State Bar Foundation, and the law schools in Nebraska should make an effort to identify minorities who have been out of college for a period of time and may be interested in a legal career, to inform them about legal education and the legal profession, and to encourage them to apply to one of the state’s law schools.
4. The Nebraska State Bar Association should work with the law schools and other appropriate groups to attract more minority students.
5. The Nebraska State Bar Foundation should consider assisting in efforts to supplement scholarships and assistance already provided by the law schools to minority students.
6. The Nebraska State Bar Association, the Bar Foundation, Nebraska’s two law schools, and the region’s ethnic bar associations should work together to provide a coordinated and targeted campaign to minority students of various ages to encourage pursuit of a career in the legal profession.
7. Among other factors, each Nebraska law school should give positive weight in the admissions process to applicants with bilingual skills.
8. The Nebraska State Bar Association and Nebraska Supreme Court should continue to work with the law schools to provide effective orientation, mentoring, and academic support programs.
9. The Nebraska State Bar Association and Nebraska Supreme Court should work more closely with the law schools to promote adequate clerking opportunities for minority law students.
10. Professional ethics classes should cover racial and ethnic bias and discrimination as they affect law practice, treatment of fellow professionals and treatment of court participants.
11. The law schools, the Nebraska State Bar Association, the Bar Foundation, and the Nebraska Supreme Court should include a fair representation of minority participants in law school, Bar and court activities, events and programs.
12. Law schools in Nebraska should annually evaluate the graduation rates among minority law students in determining the scope and effectiveness of the school’s academic support programs.
13. Entities that affect access to the profession, such as the law schools, Nebraska State Bar Association, and Nebraska State Bar Commission, should collect and maintain appropriate statistics delineated by race and ethnicity (i.e. placement and employment data).
14. Nebraska’s law schools should continue efforts to increase the diversity of their teaching faculty and administration.
Hiring, Retention, and Promotion
1. Law firms and other employers of lawyers should broaden their recruiting and hiring criteria to weigh measures of a candidate’s ability in an attempt to increase the likelihood of hiring minority candidates.
2. Law firms and other employers of lawyers should strive to eliminate behaviors that might be perceived as discriminatory or otherwise offensive to minority persons.
3. When possible, law firms and other employers of lawyers should include minority lawyers on interview, selection, and hiring teams.
4. Law firms should participate in clerkship programs that seek to place minority law students as summer associates, with the goal of expanding the range of criteria upon which the law firm may judge the likelihood of the student’s ultimate success with the firm.
5. The Nebraska State Bar Association should create a section to address race and ethnicity in the law. Among other activities, this section should develop, maintain, and disseminate a voluntary directory of practicing minority lawyers. These should note the lawyers’ location, area of practice, and career goals, to facilitate the lateral hiring of minority lawyers. In addition, this section should develop, maintain, and disseminate a voluntary directory of corporations that retain minority law firms or minority lawyers at majority-owned law firms to handle legal matters for the corporation.
6. The Nebraska State Bar Association should encourage the further development of mentoring programs for lawyers.
7. The Nebraska State Bar Association should consider recommending equal employment opportunity policies for all lawyers in Nebraska.
8. Nebraska court clerks or court administrators should collect and maintain court appointment records delineated by the type of appointment, race and ethnicity of the lawyer or appointed party, and the judge who made the appointment. This data should be reported to the Supreme Court on a periodic basis.
Judicial Selection Process
1. Judicial nominating commissions and the governor should take proactive steps to ensure a state judiciary that is reflective of the communities it serves.
2. The Nebraska Supreme Court and the Nebraska State Bar Association should encourage diversity on the judicial nominating commissions and require that records be kept of the race and ethnicity of commission members.
3. The Supreme Court and the Nebraska State Bar Association should develop and administer training to improve multicultural competence and recognition of differences for those lawyers and laypersons who serve on judicial nominating commissions.
4. The governor should consider factors such as race and ethnicity when making appointments to the judicial nominating commissions.
5. The Nebraska State Bar Association, the judicial nominating commissioners, and community legal organizations and leaders should strive to identify, encourage and support qualified minority judicial applicants.