Are federal courts out of touch?
The National Center for State Courts reported the results of a recent survey that would indicate that federal courts literally are out of touch. The survey shows federal courts have thus far largely eschewed the use of “social media,” including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Out of the 135 responding courts, only 21 (15.6%) said that they were using social media (split almost evenly between District and Bankruptcy Courts).
This blog, of course, is concerned that federal courts are pro-business and that federal judges disproportionately dismiss employment cases. But the bigger issue is the extent to which federal courts simply are out of touch with the American citizenry.
Why would the judicial branch of the federal government pass up the incredible opportunities offered by social media to inform the public about the court system and to essentially make the case that federal courts are important and should received taxpayer dollars?
One can look for clues at the U.S. Supreme Court, the leader of the federal judiciary. It still refuses to allow television cameras in its courtroom. Television is archaic technology that dates back to the 1920s.
Courts do have web pages, of course, but this is a small concession to the universe of opportunity available through social media. Here are some of the many uses of social media that federal court system could benefit from:
- Courts are in the business of deciding legal issues. Facebook and Twitter are tailor-made for courts to notify the public and the media when an important legal decision is issued or when a jury verdict is in.
- Social media offers the potential for timely dissemination of useful information to the general public (i.e., Snow day – Court closed; Jury trial postponed so jurors need not report for duty; Delays possible – Parking lot closed for re-paving, etc.).
- Imagine the increase in efficiencies that would occur if a court posted YouTube videos showing how the court operates. For example, what should a visitor expect with respect to security screening methods? Where do pro-se litigants sit in a courtroom and how do they present their case to a judge?
- Social media offers tools that can be used to education the citizenry about civil and criminal justice issues. What are the rules of evidence? What is hearsay? This type of educational outreach would be especially useful to litigants who cannot afford an attorney, which includes most poor and middle class Americans.
Perhaps most importantly, social media offers the federal court system the opportunity to build trust in the institution and to counteract common negative stereotypes about federal courts – remote, insular, obtuse, elitist, pro-business, inappropriately “activist,” influenced negatively by political considerations, out of touch, etc.. These negative stereotypes affect the public’s understanding of the important issue of judicial independence. Enhanced trust also could come in handy when the federal court asked taxpayers for money to operate.
One wonders what model of leadership, administration or management is being followed in the federal courts? What credible business school today recommends that an institution which serves the general public reject the very tools of communication that are most in use by the general public? And, the last time I looked, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were free.