With COVID-19 forcing courts nationwide to make rapid and previously untested changes to their operations to keep the cause of justice moving forward, most of 2020 was an especially difficult year in juvenile and family courts.
But for state Circuit Judge David King of New Hampshire, the pandemic’s closure of courtrooms was no excuse for retrenchment. Despite the challenges, King plowed forth to drive a range of systemic changes for which his judicial peers on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges last week gave him the 84-year-old organization’s seventh Justice Innovation Award.
The annual award recognizes an innovation or accomplishment of national significance in juvenile justice, child abuse and neglect, family law, and/or domestic violence, according to a statement from the group.
“Judge King has been instrumental in reimagining New Hampshire’s courts into one integrated circuit court which includes a family division that allows judges to specialize in the unique needs families present in court,” said Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo, NCJFCJ president. “We applaud him for his progressive thinking to help keep families together and improve children’s lives in the face of the pandemic, reorganization of staff and processes, and state budget cuts.”
Specifically, King established a central call center to streamline communications with staff, according to the council. In addition, King and his staff were credited with spearheading electronic court filing in the state, including the centralization of probate filings and guardianships. During COVID-19, he and his staff also worked with the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to build a new electronic system for filing petitions for protective orders with the help of an advocate. Finally, despite resources limited by budget cuts, King designed and implemented tech systems that allowed pleadings and hearings to proceed despite the health crisis and oversaw the expansion of alternative dispute resolution to small claims cases with a 95% settlement rate.