The Resolution’s Genesis: Interview with Dan Becker

The genesis of the joint resolution went back at least a year prior to its passage. Bill Vickrey, Director of California’s Administrative Office of the Courts, was President of COSCA in 1999, and instrumental in getting the resolution before the two organizations and passed unanimously.  Judge Roger Warren (ret.), then President of the National Center  for State Courts, and I (as well as many others) advocated for a resolution. Sometime in the spring of 1999, I ended up spending a weekend in  a conference room near Denver’s airport, with a  small cadre of State Court Administrators, Chief Justices and others . Under the benevolent, but focused  leadership of Dan Becker, Utah’s State Court Administrator, a first rough draft of the historic document was hammered out.

Interview (2001) with Dan Becker,Co-chair of Task Force on Therapeutic Justice:

Jeff Tauber: Dan, how did you become involved in this particular committee?

Dan Becker: It started with an initiative by Bill Vickery, when he was the President of COSCA, to begin looking at emerging policy questions that Administrators and Chief Justices need to be concerned about, that put us in the position of anticipating issues rather than reacting to new issues.  I was asked to chair a policy committee for COSCA and it was decided the first issue we would tackle would be therapeutic justice.

Jeff Tauber:  Was this an issue that you had previously dealt with?

Dan Becker:  Yes, my interest in it was actually as a result of work we were doing here in Utah.  We had been operating with Drug Courts on a pilot basis in Utah for about four years.  Our Judicial Council was looking at statewide implementation and because we were grappling with that issue here at home I had a lot of interest in it in terms of what was happening at the national level.

Jeff Tauber:  Now, of course, Problem Solving Courts go considerably beyond drug courts and in the future may even become more diverse.  Was that something you had envisioned from the beginning or was your original vision to deal with the drug court phenomena?

Dan Becker:  No, I would say that myself and several members of the Task Force approached it from the vantage point that drug courts were a very good illustration of the kinds of principals and methods that we thought should be applied to courts more generally.  So we were not narrowly focused.  It was really the underlying practices and principals that we thought were the most important to focus on.  Here in Utah we had already started looking and working with domestic violence courts, for example.  We were beginning to see the same threads that were used in drug courts applied in other environments.  I think that other members of the Task Force felt the same way, that we should look at it in a broader context, rather than just the narrow drug court setting.

Jeff Tauber:  Now the actual process of the Task Force that you co-chaired was quite unique and in some ways unprecedented, could you speak to that?

Dan Becker:  Well the whole approach of looking at these emerging issues was something new for COSCA.  This was one of the first opportunities where we took an issue that was emerging and we asked for the formation of a task force that included state court administrators as well as Chief Justices.  So we had a Task Force that was formed of both groups and in addition representatives from other organizations were invited to participate such as the American Judges Association.  We worked with staff assistance from the National Center for State Courts.  Surveys were done.  Literature and research was evaluated.  We had the public hearing process that took place in Denver where you and others had the opportunity to give testimony.

But what was really unique I think was that ultimately a single resolution was presented to the Conference of Chief Justices and State Court Administrators, in which both those organizations were asked to proactively address the question of what we wanted the courts to look like in the future.  In the past, resolutions in large measure, had been ones in which, the Chief Justices and Court Administrators were reacting to something that was being advanced by Congress or by an individual state.  This was really the first time, that I am aware of, where we proactively said ‘this is where we want to go’ and we were using the strengths of the organizations to articulate that to judges and administrators across the country.

Jeff Tauber:  I believe you indicated when we spoke last that when brought up before the full membership of each organization, that it passed unanimously?

Dan Becker:  It did have unanimous support from both.

Jeff Tauber:  Is that unusual?

Dan Becker:  It surprised many of us involved in this issue, because it was proactive and because there are still different degrees of understanding about the issues associated with this, that we expected it to be more controversial than it was.  I for one was surprised that it enjoyed such unanimous support.

Jeff Tauber:  Now Dan, where does the resolution go from here?

Dan Becker:  A joint task force implementation committee was formed by both presidents of the two associations and that committee is charged with taking the specific items that were included in the resolutions and working with those organizations and other organizations to have them implemented.  The National Center for State Courts, for example, is looking to take this resolution and build it into their work plan for the next several years in terms of things they should be addressing, and others are doing that as well.  I felt gratified the process wasn’t one of simply passing a resolution and moving on, saying “we’re finished with that now”.  The resolution is actually a beginning point for this implementation committee to figure out how best to apply both the spirit and the letter of what it is that was contained in the resolution.

Jeff Tauber:  I think it is truly an extraordinary document.  What do you see the potential of the problem solving field in the future?

Dan Becker:  My personal vision is that we have the opportunity to really address underlying problems that are brought to the courts, through the problem solving approach.  My hope is that court systems begin to affirmatively make decisions about where this fits into their court system.  I know that we have done that in Utah.  Our Judicial Council has taken the problem solving courts approach and said this is something that we want to do, in the case of drug courts and in the case of domestic violence courts, that we want to implement statewide and we want to move it more into the mainstream of what it is that judges do. And I would hope that as education programs are developed and as courts systems are looking at planning for their future that they build into their plans the problem solving approach so that it becomes part and parcel of what courts do.  That’s my hope that we move it into the mainstream of what we do every day in the courts in every state in the nation.

Jeff Tauber:  I really appreciate the chance to talk to you and provide our reader’s insight into this extraordinary concept and resolution.

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