‘Open Courthouse’ held at government center in Elk River for Constitution Day
The Sherburne County Government Center on Nov. 22 in Elk River opened its doors wide for Constitution Day and an “Open Courthouse” event designed to showcase the work of Minnesota’s courts, and educate the public about the work of judges, attorneys, law enforcement, and Sherburne County departments in administering the state’s justice system and county government.
The Friday afternoon event featured numerous activities, and was started with a special welcome presentation featuring local judges and a justice from the Minnesota Supreme Court.
There were also opportunities to meet local district court judges and justice partners, informational “behind-the-scenes” tours of the Sherburne County Government Center Courts Judicial Services and Administration wings, with presentations by judges and county administrators, and a Sherburne County Law Library tour.
There was an information fair featuring court and county departments as well as free, one-on-one legal assistance provided through the walk-in self-help center.
One of the highlights was a mock trial a few dozen people experienced with a local district court judge to give an idea of what a trial can be like.
The Constitution Day Open Courthouse event is an annual one, which moves around the state from one county to another.
Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Paul Thissen said that some of the best-run and most innovative courts in Minnesota be found in the 10th District, which includes Sherburne County as one of the eight counties included in the district. He said credit for that goes to the judges, administrators, and staff who work to process the 130,000 cases or so that are filed in eight counties every year. He shared a few examples of the good work that’s being done here:
• In 2018, the 10th Judicial District Self-Help Center added expanded hours for the second consecutive year in all eight of the counties in the district. Approximately 6,500 self-represented litigants were served by the Self-Help Center in 2018, which was an 11% increase from 2017. The Self-Help Center and Anoka Technical College also began a partnership that will bring self-help staff to the Anoka Technical College campus to assist the public with legal information and procedures in 2019.
• Sherburne County District Court launched in 2017 an online scheduling tool for Early Neutral Evaluations, called the Provider Availability and Scheduling System, or PASS. Early Neutral Evaluations, or ENE, attempt to move families in divorce cases through the court efficiently and inexpensively by working with them early on to reach agreements in the best interests of their families. The implementation of PASS has greatly enhanced the administration of ENE programs across the state by incorporating several systems for managing ENE into one system that also allows for in-courtroom scheduling of ENE sessions, greatly benefiting those participating in ENE.
• The 10th Judicial District’s treatment courts successfully completed their first year of serving the community in 2017. Anoka County’s Drug Court and Veterans Court will mark their two-year anniversaries in December. Wright County’s Drug Court completed its second year this month.
• The district has also implemented an interpreter scheduling program and hired a full-time Spanish interpreter. This interpreter is available to work in each of the counties in the district. The implementation of this program allows the district to better provide service to court users, with the added benefit of cost savings.
• Here in Sherburne County the government center was expanded and remodeled to include a new judicial services building. Visitors to it might be a plaintiff or defendant in a case, a juror, or someone looking for information about his or her property or county services.
Thissen said no matter why you are here, you can feel safe knowing that the people working in this building are striving to ensure your “access to justice.”