New Hampshire Judicial Branch

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Semester: 2023 Fall

Students: Olivia Pennoyer and Omar Abdel-Ghaffar

The New Hampshire Judicial Branch is dedicated to providing “accessible, prompt, and efficient forums for the fair and independent administration of justice, with respect for the dignity of all we serve.” NHJB has three segments of its court system: the Supreme Court (our appellate-level court for most matters); the Superior Court (which handles all felony cases and major civil cases); and the Circuit Court (which handles most cases, including family, probate, misdemeanor, and small claims, among many other case types). This project would primarily involve the trial level courts: Superior and Circuit Court.

As court operations have shifted back from remote to in-person, court staff and individuals using the court have had increasing opportunities to engage. Court users often experience strong emotions, which they are increasingly bringing into highly charged interactions with court personnel, on the phone or in person. The NHJB has engaged the Harvard Dispute Systems Design Clinic to conduct an assessment and make recommendations on how to: 1) improve internal court systems and processes in ways that might address/reduce users’ frustration and, 2) effectively engage court users who are experiencing strong emotions. The project will involve, in part, an assessment of the concerns and experiences that are driving these strong emotions, what approaches people take to raising their concerns with court staff, and how these encounters are currently handled by both court users and court staff.

Students will:

  • Interview key stakeholders within the Circuit Court, as well as individuals outside of the Court who have experience engaging with the court system;
  • Observe interactions and engagement in public areas of Circuit Court locations;
  • Formulate recommendations, resources, and/or trainings to highlight effective practices and offer guidance to court staff on engaging with court users who are experiencing strong emotions; 
  • Formulate recommendations for systemic/process changes that might prevent or mitigate incidents of unhelpful conflict escalation;
  • Write a report that includes: 1) recommendations for court administrators and other court staff on how to engage strong emotions effectively when interacting with court users, and 2) recommendations on opportunities for systemic improvements within the court system that can be leveraged to alleviate strong emotions for both court users and court staff.
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