Chief justice highlights accessibility of court system

The head of the state’s judicial branch reported on its work to make the state’s court system more accessible to all Nebraskans in his State of the Judiciary address Jan. 22.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said the Access to Justice Commission was created to provide equal access to “expeditious and fair justice for all Nebraskans, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age or language.”

To address a shortage of certified court interpreters, Heavican said that the commission’s Language Access Program—which provides interpreters in 49 languages—worked in conjunction with Northeast Community College in Norfolk to provide a no-cost adult education course for aspiring court interpreters.

“This program is the first of its kind in the nation and is proving to be very successful,” he said, adding that the courts hope to expand the program in the future.

Heavican said that improving judicial outreach to Nebraska’s four recognized Native American tribes also is a continuing focus of the judiciary. This fall, the commission held grant-funded engagement sessions with tribal, state and federal court representatives.

“These sessions fostered conversations with Nebraska’s Native American communities regarding court relationships, jurisdictional issues and the Indian Child Welfare Act,” he said. “By organizing and hosting these sessions, we hope to strengthen Native American communities’ confidence in our court system.”

Finally, Heavican highlighted juvenile probation’s successful shift to more in-home and community-based alternatives, while also reducing costs to the state. He specifically noted the use of Victim Youth Conferencing, which allows young offenders to take responsibility for their actions and participate in face-to-face dialogues with their victims.

The judicial branch continues to face many challenges, he said, but will continue to expand its services and programming in 2020.

“The Nebraska Judicial Branch remains committed to the delivery of justice in a fair and timely manner,” Heavican said. “We will carry out this mission efficiently, while continuing to provide equal access for all Nebraska citizens.”

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