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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: November 11, 2002
Volume 38, Number 9

Judicial Education Center receives national award
First Judicial Court funds domestic violence virtual trial

By Laurie Mellas-Ramirez

The Rozier E. Sanchez Judicial Education Center of New Mexico (JEC) at the Institute of Public Law, UNM School of Law, has been recognized for its innovative Web-based educational programming.

JEC Director Paul Biderman, associate director of Public Law, UNM, accepted the Howell Heflin Award, presented annually by the State Justice Institute (SJI) to a project it funded that has “a high likelihood of significantly improving the quality of justice in state courts around the nation.”

SJI is a federally funded public corporation based in Alexandria, Va., that supports development and advancement of state and local judiciaries.

The ceremony was held at the Great Hall of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., during a reception preceding the National Center for State Court’s annual William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence Dinner.

The 7th annual award went to JEC for its judicial education Web site. In particular, SJI noted the Web course on Alternate Dispute Resolution in the Courts developed and offered to the New Mexico judiciary last spring. The dispute resolution course provides streamed videos of New Mexico experts discussing aspects of mediation techniques in the courts.  The lectures are accompanied by visual aids, including a demonstration of dispute resolution techniques, an online PowerPoint presentation participants can watch while a presenter speaks and online discussion group among participants and speaker.  Participants can also link to more detailed materials.  The course is offered in four weekly modules about an hour each week.

SJI board members retired New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Joseph Baca and Bernalillo Country District Court Judge Tommy Jewell presented the award to Biderman.

“Delivering justice to…isolated communities is a daily challenge to New Mexico’s courts and delivering judicial education to the judges and court personnel who serve in these areas is a special challenge to the Judicial Education Center,” Jewell said.

Biderman then recognized Judicial Education Center Web designer Pam Castaldi for conception and construction of the Web site and retired District Court Judge Rozier E. Sanchez, whose efforts launched the creation of the JEC. Both were present at the ceremony.

“Judicial educators provide judges with the opportunities and tools to anticipate and confront the future,” Biderman said.

New Mexico’s Judicial Education Center launched in 1991 at the UNM Institute of Public Law with a $167,000 SJI grant. JEC is supported primarily through state funds, but relies on grant funding to help develop innovative educational programs for state judges and court staff. In 1997, a $100,000 SJI grant launched the Web site.

Continuing education is an annual requirement for the judiciary. JEC’s judicial education Web site at http://jec.unm.edu includes programs and resources for the courts, including a virtual trial on drunk driving, a set of benchbooks for limited jurisdiction judges and court staff and various text-based tutorials on law and ethics.

In July, JEC was awarded a $60,000 grant from the Office of the District Attorney for the First Judicial District of New Mexico (Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties) to develop a second virtual trial, this one dealing with domestic violence.

The grant is from federal funds distributed by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Grants office in the Department of Justice.

The simulation will use streamed video, pop-up windows and text to address common issues in a criminal trial. Judges have an opportunity to make procedural and legal decisions in a situation similar to what they will deal with in the courtroom. “It is very interactive. It is designed to be a two-way process,” Biderman says.

Judges can access the program, or any JEC program, from a laptop computer at anytime, even while making a ruling on the bench. The programs are also useful for other court professionals, including law enforcement, victim advocates and counselors.

When completed, the domestic violence virtual trial will complement an online course JEC is developing on domestic violence. That course, funded with other VAWA grants from the Santa Fe District Attorney and the Crime Reparations Commission, should be finished by early next year.

“We hope the course and virtual trial will help improve handling of domestic violence cases in the courts,” Biderman says. “Judges can be unfamiliar with how complex and different domestic violence cases are. There is the element of victim protection, for example, and the concern about continued unlawful conduct against the same victims.”

Even though the virtual trial is designed for the First Judicial District, it, and other JEC Web programs and resources, are accessible to court and domestic violence professionals anywhere in the state. Since the site came online five years ago, judiciary participation in New Mexico has steadily climbed.

“Judges in remote areas have become Web savvy,” Biderman said.

“Our site could gain interest from court professionals around the world because it is accessible,” Biderman said, adding that it receives some hits outside the United States.

“Overall, we hope we are improving the quality of justice,” he said.

For information, call 277-8789, biderman@unm.edu.