Fundamentals for Court Staff: Ideas for Teaching Due Process

by Christal P. Keegan, NJC Program Attorney

After lunch on the first day of the NASJE conference, participants had the option to choose from numerous high-value concurrent sessions. Choosing which sessions to attend and which sessions to miss was challenging. A packed house attended the Fundamentals for Court Staff: Ideas for Teaching Due Process session, presented by Nancy Fahey Smith, Pima County Field Trainer for Pima County Superior Court in Tucson, Arizona. Although she presented an abbreviated version of a program she provides to Arizona court employees, it became immediately clear that protection of due process rights is at the essence of every job in the courts and staff at every level needs to be aware this fundamental right.

In her presentation, Nancy showed pictures of faces from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds to demonstrate her point: you cannot put a face to the law and the face of law is not the stereotypical elder Caucasian male. The presentation proceeded into a variety of learning activities. First, participants were provided with a “Take a Moment” worksheet that offered a thinking and reflective opportunity on why it is important to teach due process to court employees. After a few minutes, the group participated in an information exchange; participants shared the course goals / learning objectives and activities they identified to engage court employees when teaching due process. Next, the participants worked through the “Legal Advice or Legal Information?” activity worksheet to decide if court employees can answer a list of common questions from court customers.

One of the many highlights of the presentation was the showing of a video segment featuring John Stewart, American political satirist and host of the television show The Daily Show, which covered due process in the context of the media’s coverage of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, perpetrators of the Boston marathon bombing. While the group found the video entertaining and on point, she cautioned that some audiences may take offense to it and she encouraged a thoughtful introduction prior to showing the video.

The presentation anchored due process to reality by discussing timely and on-point local news articles that reflected controversial court decisions (Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act). These too merit careful introduction along the same lines as the video. The session wrapped up with a small discussion group exercise where groups were assigned different personnel positions within the court and were asked to state how staff working in the assigned position protected due process rights of court clients through their work. For example, our group was assigned human resources assistant.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the participants were able to define the two types of due process, state why and how due process is fundamental to the court system and the work of court employees, associate jobs performed by court employees with protection of due process, integrate activities into a due process class, and adapt plans to classes for court employees in their states.