DC Courts Commemorate 50th Anniversary as a Local, Consolidated Court System
The DC Courts are proud to commemorate their 50th Anniversary on February 1, 2021. High ground originally envisioned in 1791 by Pierre L'Enfant as the seat of the nation's judiciary, in 1971, Judiciary Square became home to the District's local Judicial Branch. The 1820's Historic Courthouse at the center of the Square continued to serve its role as a temple on a green hill, a symbol of our community's ideals of justice.
On Monday, February 1, 1971, the DC Courts held a ceremonial joint opening session, taking over authority from the federal courts and consolidating a number of smaller municipal courts. The DC Superior Court officially came into being on that day, with cases previously handled by US District Court, the General Sessions Court and Juvenile Court being transferred over.
At the opening day ceremony, US Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger spoke, calling for a new way of thinking. According to The Washington Post, the Chief Justice "urged each judge to raise his thinking 'from being a municipal court judge to (the) highest order of judge...'" He encouraged standardization of hours and establishment of uniform protocols and procedures. US Attorney General John Mitchell also spoke at the ceremony, saying "'our great federal city now sets an example for justice and law enforcement everywhere in the land' with the Superior Court and the expanded DC Court of Appeals." (Washington Post, Feb 2, 1971)
"This is an historic day," DC Court of Appeals Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby said of the anniversary. "As a DC resident, I am proud of how far our city has come and as Chair of the Joint Committee on Judicial Administration, I am also very proud of how far our court system has come. Our unified court system serves DC area residents well, is accessible physically and to those who speak different languages or have visual or hearing impairments; we provide a range of services to those without an attorney. Several years ago we renovated the beautiful Historic Courthouse which recently celebrated its 200th year as a central part of the District's government. We have come a long way but of course we will always be striving to achieve fully our vision of being 'Open to All, Trusted by All, with Justice for All'.
DC Superior Court Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring shared Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby's pride in what has been achieved by the DC Court system, saying "Our courts are models of innovation and access to justice. The Superior Court has a number of problem-solving courts designed to not just process cases, but to assist those who come before us with the challenges that caused their criminal behavior. We have a number of satellite offices throughout the city that allow DC residents easier access to court services and have enabled us to offer remote sites during the pandemic for those without WiFi or computer access at home. We are a strong, accessible and efficient court system, and are optimistic about what the years ahead will bring to us, but more importantly to the residents of the District of Columbia
In the years since, the DC Courts have become a model court system, visited each year by dozens of delegations from courts across the US and around the world. Among the innovations that the Courts have implemented:
- Appellate oral arguments are live-streamed, making them available to all those who are interested;
Online court calendars and case dockets in both courts;
- Mediation - The DC Court of Appeals has a multi-faceted appellate mediation program available at no cost to the parties. The Superior Court's Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division (MultiDoor) provides free mediation for parties with civil, family, landlord tenant, probate, and small claims court cases. DC residents who wish to resolve a dispute without filing a court case can also utilize MultiDoor’s free mediation services. Additionally, MultiDoor has a satellite mediation office located in Adams Morgan.
- Self Help Centers - There are self help centers in all non-criminal divisions of the DC Courts to assist those without an attorney;
- Forms Help Online - a guided program that assists people with filling out forms to accomplish the goal they seek the court's help with;
- Bilingual staff and signage - Every public counter in the DC Courts buildings has at least one person who is bilingual in Spanish;
- Problem-solving courts: Drug Court, Community Courts, Mental Health Community Court, Family Treatment Court, Fathering Court, and HOPE Court (for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation of children);
- Domestic Violence Division: A specialized division, with a satellite office East of the River, addresses civil protection orders;, extreme risk protection orders, child support, as well as criminal contempt and domestic violence misdemeanor matters;
- Balanced & Restorative Justice Centers in all four wards of the city to assist juveniles who have become involved in the justice system find pro-social activities and avoid recidivism and incarceration; and
- Mental Health Urgent Care Clinic in the Moultrie Courthouse for those needing assistance with mental health challenges.