Chief Justice: Judiciary made progress despite financial challenges

Chief Justice Katherine A. Maraman said the strategic plan describes the long-range objectives and goals for the island's court system.

Guam – “The state of the judiciary is persevering and purposeful. Despite some undeniable challenges – primarily financial – we have made very promising progress,” Chief Justice Katherine Maraman said as she delivered her state of the judiciary address Wednesday morning. 

While highlighting the Judiciary’s accomplishments despite its resource constraints, Maraman announced that they have submitted a $35.9 million budget request for FY 2020.

She said the Judiciary’s budget includes a very conservative increase to take on the growing cost of delivering its services at the Hagåtña and Dededo courts. The request also includes funding for the therapeutic courts and court appointed attorneys, the electronic monitoring program, among other essential services.

“Our Judicial Council took all input from the administration of the courts and presented the budget as our plan for growth in the years to come. The submission of our request of $35.9 million is a reflection of less than five percent of the total Government of Guam budget,” Maraman said.

Financial hurdles may persist

In 2017 and 2018, the Judiciary had to take a look at its core mandates and figure out how to fulfill those mandates with the limited resources they had.

“And I would imagine that in 2019, our financial hurdles may persist. As always, however, the Judiciary strives to meet these challenges by approaching our work with a prioritization of basic court services, mindful of our need to be more flexible, accessible, user-friendly, and efficient,” she said.

A big part of accomplishing these mandates is by optimizing and maximizing the use of technology, according to Maraman. She highlighted the following key accomplishments of the Judiciary:

  • Criminal Justice Automation Commission (CJAC) – Through a grant, 15 police patrol cars are now equipped with laptops that allow immediate access to information. The system improves officer safety and aids in the apprehension of suspects. For over two decades, CJAC introduced improvements to the court’s case management system, criminal justice information system, and the island-wide fingerprinting system.
  • Electronic Monitoring Program – For pre-trial defendants. Last year, the legislature provided the judiciary resources to begin implementing the program. Maraman said the judiciary is currently testing the technology and will be awarding the contract for the system in the next few weeks. The system will be fully implemented by summer, according to Maraman.
  • Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) – This training is now being offered monthly. All private guardians must attend the training, within four months of being appointed. According to Maraman, this ensures that all guardians, whether court-appointed or private, are provided with the
    training, resources, and support to better care for the elderly and vulnerable. By raising awareness of the pitfalls of the guardian-ward relationship, she said the Judiciary hopes to help reduce the incidence of abuse among the elderly and infirm.
  • Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem Program – This program seeks vetted volunteers from all career fields to serve as advocates for children in the justice system – to include those abused, neglected, and even abandoned here in our island, according to Maraman.
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – The Judiciary is implementing this pilot program. The voluntary, confidential referral program is open to all Judiciary
    employees. It aims to help individuals navigate various life challenges that may adversely affect their job performance, overall health, and personal well-being.
  • Civil Justice Reform Initiative – The initiative included the recruitment of a Civil Case Manager and the establishment of a Civil Case Management Team, or CCMT. A new case information sheet was also implemented to assure full statistical representation of the types of civil cases filed in the Superior Court. More than 100 civil and domestic cases were identified to be part of the pilot of cases for the initiative.

Next Steps

  • Codify CJAC – The Judiciary asked the legislature to introduce legislation to codify the CJAC. By enacting legislation to codify the commission, even more investment through federal grantor agencies can be secured, according to Maraman.
  • Appointment of an 8th Superior Court judge – An additional judge will tackle the Judiciary’s complex caseload and help eliminate backlogs, according to Maraman. She said having the additional judicial officer will complement and enhance the fulfillment of the Judiciary’s core mission – to provide optimal service at the Guam Judicial Center and the Northern Court Satellite.

Maraman said Wednesday’s judiciary address would be her last as  Chief Justice of Guam.

“I came into this position full of hope and eager to help bring positive advancements to the administration of justice. As I reflect on the past couple of years of my term, I am grateful for the work we accomplished even through some very lean financial conditions.”