Englewood Municipal Judge Joe Jefferson feels one of the greatest issues currently facing the court is public trust.
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Jefferson, who highlighted this issue in his State of the Courts address in August, said “public trust in the justice system is paramount to compliance with the law and ultimately public safety.”
He said the law is basically a community agreement to do justice to each other.
“How do we do that? I think the great resets of COVID and some of the criminal justice reform movements have sort of put this issue front and center,” Jefferson said.
In his State of the Courts address, Jefferson gave examples of other issues the court is facing, which includes technology, unfunded state mandates and coordination of stakeholders. He feels public trust is an issue greatly impacting the court.
“I think we’re at a really big crossroads on that issue as a community and as a country,” he said.
Jefferson said the best way the court could improve public trust is “deeper mutual understanding.”
“I think it’s the court’s duty to inform the people in the community about what we do and why,” he said. “But I think everyone has a role in ensuring ‘justice for all’ in Englewood and we all have a piece of that pie.”
He said while it’s the court’s duty to inform the public on its proceedings, it’s also a team effort between other areas of Englewood’s government to provide clear communication.
“It’s a collaboration between the branches of government to ensure the final project is good,” Jefferson said. “That inherently is a little bit of a struggle because there’s that system of checks and balances and it requires communication, mutual understanding and good faith.”
In the State of the Courts, Jefferson mentioned various forms of state legislation that will impact Englewood including House Bill 23-1182, which went into effect in September.
“The state legislature passed a bill that said all courts in Colorado must provide access to virtual, not participation, but virtual observation to criminal court cases unless there is a reason why,” he said.
Jefferson said he feels this applies to the Englewood court and the issue with that bill is the ability for the court to comply due to technological and staffing problems.
“We were excited to comply with some of the new technology and our ability to handle virtual proceedings but as we’re kind of approaching the goal line we’re having issues with our technology and staffing levels,” Jefferson said.
He said the court will have to delay that effort until they have the staff and technology to comply with the bill.
“The bill says within 91 days of our ability to comply we should comply, and I envision that happening through our YouTube channel,” he said. “
He said he wants to give the public the chance to view court proceedings if they’re interested in staying informed as to what is happening in the community and in the courts.
“Our plan in my mind is to comply when we have the ability and I just believe that that’s going to provide additional levels of transparency to the public on what we do and why and I think we’ll just improve service levels,” Jefferson said.
He said he also feels providing virtual participation will help with the issue of trust.
“I think the third branch of government, the judicial branch, has struggled with transparency, and I think we have a golden opportunity here to provide the appropriate level of transparency to our proceedings and I think that’s ultimately going to increase public trust,” Jefferson said.
Trust through programs
In addition to virtual participation, Jefferson said there are programs operated through the court that assist with public trust such as the Court Navigator Program.
This program, now led by former Littleton prosecutor Arnie Shunneson, began in 2021 and is meant to assist people in crisis, get to the root cause of their struggles and help them move past those challenges.
“The mission of the court is to provide justice with dignity for all and I think we’re all somewhat familiar with the concept of justice for all,” Jefferson said. “I think the real advancement is the insertion of this concept of dignity and ensuring we provide some levels of what is known as procedural justice.”
He said the court wants to ensure people are heard and seen and “handled with a certain level of humanity.”
The origin of the court’s mission to ensure “dignity for all” comes from Jefferson’s 2017 campaign where he said he wanted to highlight that the court could improve its rehabilitation services.
“Where I felt like we could improve was providing more rehabilitation and restoration opportunities to sort of avoid this issue of conveyor belt of justice,” Jefferson said.
He explained the Court Navigator Program is voluntary for people and has shown how to help citizens comply with their sentences, ensure people understand what’s required of them to move forward and ensure they’re helped with any concerns in that process. “It helps them improve themselves and improve their lives. (We look at) what are the barriers to success,” Jefferson said.
He said the program strives to break through those barriers by providing resources such as mental health services, medical services, housing opportunities, and other necessities.
Jefferson explained the program is an example of building public trust.
“It’s a substantial fundamental element and part of that is at least recognized through the voluntary nature of this,” he said. “No body is sentences to this program. This is a voluntary engagement that they agree to as part of their own volition to improve themselves and comply with the court sentence.”
For more information on the program visit www.englewoodco.gov and search for court navigation services.
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