This posting follows the prior posting that highlighted the NACM CORE© Competency on Budget and Fiscal Management ( https://courtleader.net/2021/06/01/court-leadership-the-competency-of-budget-and-fiscal-management/ ).  In that posting I noted that not all leaders “enjoy” (or stated another way, welcome) the responsibility for the court’s budget.  This posting elaborates on how we as leaders can make the most of the budget and fiscal process and associate it with the court purpose and mission.

Court budgeting and fiscal management is often the direct responsibility of the court administrator.  Sometimes it is delegated to an administrator with specific fiscal and budget expertise. Budgeting usually necessitates working within the governmental funding structures and requirements, whether they be federal, tribal, state, county, or city.

Admittedly I am not the most experienced budget administrator!  For me to embrace and understand the budget, I needed to consider the budget in ways that related fiscal resources to underlying court purposes and operations. Here are three court leader strategies to consider based on my own observations and experiences:  link the budget to the court mission and purpose; link budget resources to court products and outcomes; and make the connection between the budget and court performance measures.  I’ll describe each below.

Link the budget to the court mission and purpose. In this strategy, it is important to know and believe in the court’s mission statement.  You can then find opportunities to relate the court budget to the mission. You can also identify ways to talk about the budget (and resources) in terms of how they relate to and support the court mission.

Here are a few sample court mission statements:

Mission Example: The mission of the U.S. Courts for the District of Arizona is to deliver the highest measure of justice by providing an accessible, impartial forum for the resolution of disputes with the consistent, just, efficient, and timely delivery of service to the bench, bar, public, and other entities with whom the courts interact.https://www.azd.uscourts.gov/other/mission#:~:text=The%20mission%20of%20the%20U.S

Mission Example: As the place where justice starts, it is the mission of the Justice of the Peace Court to serve the people of Delaware by efficient and accessible administration of justice for all, and to treat all persons with integrity, fairness, and respect. https://courts.delaware.gov/jpcourt/mission.aspx

Mission Example: The 36th District Court is dedicated to administering justice in an equitable, impartial, and timely manner in accordance with the rule of law.  The 36th District Court shall provide the public and other agencies it serves with an accessible, safe, respectful environment in which to conduct business and resolve disputes.  The 36th District Court is also committed to promoting excellence, integrity, and competence while ensuring public trust and confidence in the judicial system. https://www.36thdistrictcourt.org/about-us/mission-statement

Consider these example mission statements.  You can select key words from the mission statements (for example: access, forum, timely, serve, safe, resolve), and begin to make the connections with the work that the court performs.  You can also describe how the budget supports those court functions that carry out the goals and mission of the court.  The challenge to you is: What is your court mission statement? How does your court budget relate to your court mission? Does it relate? How can you make that connection for yourself and others? 

Link budget resources to court products and outcomes.  For this strategy, I invite you to consider – what are the outcomes and products of a court?  Products might be accessibility, completion of a case, or enforcement of a court order.  In my court leader experience, we looked at what were called “touch points,” lines of service delivery, or the points where the court was providing services to its users.  We created and found ways to measure those touch points.  Touch points can be some of the items illustrated below. You will likely think of additional items based upon the operation of your own court.

Can you measure these items?  And can you link the ability of the court to perform these services to the fiscal resources provided for the court?  The image below represents a visual of this concept. It was created and used for court leader training in February 2021 (Institute for Court Management, Accountability and Court Performance course).

Make the connection between the court budget and court performance measures. Think about the court budget in terms of how the operation of the budget is similar to oversight of overall court performance. In the case of the budget, it gets monitored regularly.  The same should be true of court performance measures. You can measure how well the court is operating and performing in these areas:

  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness
  • Procedural satisfaction, and
  • Productivity.

Ask yourself:  How does the budget relate to your operations within these four areas?  What can you measure about these four operational areas in your court? Fortunately, the National Center for State Courts High Performance Court Framework and the CourTools Measures provide methodologies.

https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/ctadmin/id/2040

and www.courtools.org

In closing, I believe that court leaders can appreciate the court budget and fiscal management process. I suggest that if we can link the budget to the mission, link financial resources to court products or outcomes, and make the conscious connection between court financial and performance operation and evaluation, we can make the most of our budget and fiscal responsibilities. 

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