Municipal courts represent an enormous swath of the American judiciary. Nationwide, there are over 7,500 such courts in thirty states. Collectively they process over 3.5 million criminal misdemeanor cases every year and collect at least $2 billion in fines and fees. Created, funded, and controlled by cities, these courts — sometimes referred to as “summary” or “justice” or “police” courts — tend to be low profile, low resource, and low status, which hampers their ability to provide robust legal process and support for the millions of defendants who pass through their doors. They also often exhibit many of the dysfunctions for which lower courts have been generally criticized: cavalier speed, legal sloppiness, punitive harshness, and disrespectful treatment of defendants.
In this course, students will simulate the role of policy advocate for the support and improvement of the criminal municipal court function. Student will study the law, scholarship, and policy practices surrounding the modern municipal court phenomenon. Teams of students will design and draft materials aimed at supporting and improving criminal municipal court practices, including educational materials for municipal court judges, a Best Practices Handbook, and a Citizen’s Guide to Municipal Courts.