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Judiciary focusing on "individualized justice"

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - It was a full house and standing room only as Supreme Court of Guam Chief Justice Robert Torres delivered his State of the Judiciary Address from the Guam Legislature Thursday night.

With a focus on individualized justice, Torres recognizes that it's not about filling the island's already overcrowded prison, but treating the problem at the source to combat the rise in crime.

It's an alarming reality - a cyclical life of crime here on the island inundated with repeat offenders. With one in every 25 people on Guam under community supervision, an overcrowded prison, a growing number of pre-trial defendants, and an increase in juvenile offenders, Chief Justice Torres understands that as gatekeepers, the Judiciary has plenty of work ahead to keep Guam safe.

"It's become clear that our traditional approaches of criminal justice are just not enough. Our goal has to be to treat the source of what leads people into the justice system. Rather than just punish criminal conduct," his honor explained.

And while the traditional take on criminal justice no longer works, evidence shows what does work. This includes community based programs for mental health, substance abuse treatments, anger management programs, family counseling, education and employment programs as well as probation and supervision.

Keeping with moving forward, the Judiciary is pushing efforts for better accessibility to justice. Currently, the judiciary is working to cater to veterans with the establishment of the veterans treatment court by early next year, to cater to the underprivileged with the beginnings of certifications for limited license legal technicians, and to cater to those who don't speak English with the creation of the court interpreter registry program which already includes 40 contracted interpreters in 15 languages and dialects. This pool is expected to grow as the Judiciary has partnered with the Guam Community College to develop an interpreter certification program.

Keeping with better access to justice, Torres says as the Judiciary embraces technology, they're saving time, money, travel, as well as increasing safety and security. Now court clientele can make their payments online, and defendants and off island witnesses can appear via videoconference.

Despite all these advances, the business of administering justice isn't cheap. As Torres explained, the Judiciary submitted its budget request for next fiscal year on Thursday which he says is $3.9 million more than what was requested prior.

He justifies the increase stating that 60% of the hike represents mandates, including the implementation of the Competitive Wage Act as well as the need to reinforce security both physically and electronically. "Justice is something that should never be rationed," Torres stated. "The cost of attempting to do so will be far higher in the long run than the savings that can be realized now."

In closing, Torres asks the community to take pride in the state of the Judiciary, saying, "The state of the Judiciary evolved substantially over the years, from simply deciding cases to helping address the underlying problems and alleviate the impacts of them. The people of Guam can truly be proud of the judiciary's ability to adapt and modernize. And this is just the beginning."

The address was well received by many in the audience, including Governor Eddie Calvo who's most anxious to see how the court serves our island's veterans, saying, "Then of course the other areas with some of the issues regarding our veterans. Understanding that with all of them coming back from the military how do we move forward in ensuring that because of the unique nature of a soldier that justice is dispensed in a fair way."

It was also a thumbs up from Senator Frank Aguon Jr. who was most impressed by the Judiciary's efficient use of technology. He noted, "I'm particularly interested not only in the efficiency and use of technology but also the official establishment of the Veterans Court. We certainly look forward to that support being extended to our community."

But what's the Judiciary of Guam without the Guam Police Department? As chief of police Fred Bordallo says, he's very proud of the partnership between the agencies. "I think it was a great presentation from Justice Torres especially the emphasis on working collaboratively with all the stakeholders and the community partners and ensuring that everybody is going to be confident in the Judiciary, especially with the challenges that Guam faces in ensuring that court security is taken care of, ensuring that defendants are treated individually and circumstances of how they're brought before justices is going to be different," he said.

Also partnering with the courts, Guam Community College president Dr. Mary Okada said, "We're very pleased to be working in partnership with the Guam Judiciary to establish requirements necessary to provide moderate and low income individuals with the support that they need to address their legal issues in addition to that the continuing support that we have for the interpreter program to address the interpreting requirements and needs of our community."
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