Trust and confidence in our state courts is essential to the rule of law and, therefore, of paramount importance. The California Constitution directs the Judicial Council to improve the administration of justice by surveying judicial business and recommending improvements. Feedback from the public and other stakeholders helps to inform the council's strategic planning and priority setting for the branch.
In 2005, the council undertook a statewide survey of the public and of practicing attorneys to determine current levels of trust and confidence in the state courts, and to obtain information concerning expectations and performance of the state courts.
The survey reached over 2,400 members of the public and over 500 practicing attorneys.
Particular care was taken to ensure that perceptions and experiences of all Californians were given equal weight (extra efforts were made to interview minority group members and non-English speakers and to capture the range of opinion across the state's geography.
The survey findings indicated that confidence in the California courts is substantially higher than when the last comparable survey was conducted in 1992, and that the diversity of the public served by California's courts is striking (for example, 31 percent of all respondents were born outside of the United States).
In 2006, phase II of the study delved more deeply into key issues. Using focus groups and interviews, researchers sought direct information from court users.
The focus groups with court users were conducted in varied locations around the state in order to capture California's regional diversity; groups directly engaged court users from the state's three largest minority groups—African Americans, Latinos, and Chinese Americans.
Members of the judicial branch—both judicial officers and court administrators—were added to the phase II study and met in separate focus groups.
The judicial branch members listened to and responded to court users' views and experiences, and helped identify other legitimate and important concerns that should be addressed by the branch.
Input received in phase I and phase II has informed and shaped the goals and policy direction in Justice in Focus: The Strategic Plan for California's Judicial Branch, 2006-2012.