By Kevin M. Dougherty
Guaranteeing the fair and impartial administration of justice for all is a massive and complicated undertaking for a jurisdiction as large as the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, which encompasses the city of Philadelphia.
During my tenure as the administrative judge for the First Judicial District, I have worked with amazing judges, as well as the incredible women and men who comprise the district, to improve court efficiencies, while balancing the need for public safety and the reentry and integration of formerly incarcerated people back into our communities.
In our criminal and civil divisions, we have achieved 100 percent clearance rates - disposing of more cases than are filed. Working with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield, we are committed to expanding our current Veterans Court to help formerly incarcerated veterans.
Under my leadership, the courts have continued to consider the unique circumstances of the mentally ill and their individual paths to incarceration. I am immensely proud of the work of Court of Common Pleas President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper and the success of our Mental Health Court. It has been widely recognized for providing intensive wraparound treatment and probation supervision aimed at reducing recidivism and helping those with mental disabilities to live productive lives outside incarceration.
I am equally proud that our courts have begun to address the human sex trade issue from the standpoint of its victims. We are now encouraging a more holistic approach to prostitution - assisting the victims who have been forced into prostitution and drug addiction by their vilely ruthless, profiteering enforcers.
Our goal is to tackle the root causes of prostitution and help adult women connect to centralized treatment and ancillary services via our Project Dawn Initiative, while our juvenile court equivalent, WRAP Court (Working to Restore Adolescents' Power), has focused on the child victims of human trafficking.
Our Commerce Court, home of the city's sequestration program, has placed a renewed emphasis on the collection of delinquent taxes and has generated millions of dollars for the School District of Philadelphia. Our Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Program, a global model for conciliation between homeowners and lenders, has kept thousands of Philadelphia families in their homes.
The construction of our new Family Court building has made an indelible contribution to addressing family issues in our court system. Consolidating two outdated facilities into one state-of-the-art building has improved internal communications, driven efficiency in our operations, and provided dignity and safety to families, youths, and other court stakeholders.
Additionally, under the leadership of Administrative Judge Margaret T. Murphy, our Family Court division has placed a continued emphasis on education, demonstrated most clearly by our Student Transition Center and our participation in the School Justice Collaboration Program: Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court.
As we continue to emphasize efficiencies within our courts, the use of video conferencing has led to substantial savings in prisoner transportation while improving courthouse security. Our electronic filing system and document management have enabled more than 95 percent of our courtrooms to operate without paper files.
As I prepare to leave the First Judicial District and begin serving on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I look back with pride on the accomplishments we achieved, coupled with the regret that comes from not having accomplished all that we sought to do. As I begin the next chapter of my life and judicial career, I remain ever thankful and humbled by the opportunity and privilege to serve the people of Philadelphia.