Judges play a critical role in enhancing equal access to justice. As a Judge, I have had the opportunity to rethink many of the biases baked into our criminal justice system. For example, during COVID, my colleagues and I have worked with our staff to provide virtual hearings so people who can not make it physically to court can appear via WebEx. This change has required us to rethink the bias in our system that expects individuals to appear in person for all of their hearings. We have also had to allow folks to appear via phone when they don’t have the technology to allow them to appear by video, and to allow interpreters to appear remotely to ensure their safety during the pandemic. All of these changes have allowed for greater access to justice for all participants, but they have not necessarily made courts more efficient. The reality that new technologies do not necessarily result in higher efficiency has also required a shift in our thinking and procedures.
One other way to improve access to the judicial system is to provide funding for the programs we require defendants to engage in. I am proud to have spent my career working on Domestic Violence (DV) intervention, where cost-free access to services is particularly crucial. Unlike chemical dependency and mental health treatments, DV intervention is not covered by health insurance. This too is a form of bias. As a result, the cost of treatment falls largely on the offender who has committed intimate partner violence, their family members, and those survivors who stay with their partners. That’s why I wrote the Op-Ed, “Help Heal Families: Fund Domestic Violence Intervention Programs,” The Seattle Times, October 28, 2021, pg. 14. In my article, I urge the state legislature to pay for the costs of domestic violence treatment so offenders and their families don’t feel the burden of the intervention and can better engage in treatment.