Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 22, 2005


Host: Michael Grant

Arizona's Health Insurance Crisis: Insura


  • Part four of four What about health insurance during the retirement years? Some employers continue to pay for it, but many retirees are carrying more of the burden. Patrick Klein of the Arizona State Retirement System is the guest.
Guests:
  • Patrick Klein - Assistant Director of external affairs, Arizona State Retirement System
  • Ruth McGregor - Arizona Chief Justice


View Transcript
>> Michael Grant:
Tonight on "Horizon", what happens to your medical coverage after you retire? We'll get some answers. Plus, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor will talk about issues affecting the court, including one that's under attack -- judicial independence. That's next on "Horizon".

>> Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible by the friends of Channel 8, members who provide financial support to this Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon". I'm Michael Grant. Tonight, we conclude our four-part series: "Arizona's Health Insurance Crisis." It used to be that when you retired, in many cases insurance benefits were provided and paid for you by your employer. But that is becoming more rare, as retiring employees are having to pick up a bigger part of the cost of insurance. And that can be particularly tough for those not old enough for Medicare upon retirement. I'll talk to an official from the Arizona State Retirement system about the situation. But first, Mike Sauceda tells us about one retired union employee who still enjoys full coverage at no charge.

>> Mike Sauceda:
One of the biggest concerns of those retiring early is the cost of medical insurance. Many retirees lose the employer provided subsidy for insurance when they leave the job. President Doug Hart has full coverage with no premium.

>> Doug Hart:
I'm retired but I am covered. In a couple weeks I have to have minor surgery, it will cover 80\% of it. It don't affect my life very much because I have coverage. My mother who lives with us, who worked as a waitress, taking in laundry, trying to raise myself and two sisters has no coverage. She lives with us because of that. Her drugs cost $300 a month and her Social Security check is 800 so most of it goes to drugs.

>> Mike Sauceda:
for those with no such protection, retirement can be a tough decision.

>> I think that's the primary why most people don't retire now until they reach Social Security coverage, age 65, now going to be 66 pretty soon. So because they have to pay $1,000 a month or more if they can get health coverage at all. Therein lies the problem.

>> Michael Grant:
Here now to tell us more about insurance after retirement is Patrick Klein, assistant director of external affairs for the Arizona State Retirement System. Pat, good to see you.

>> Patrick Klein:
Good to see you, too, Michael.

>> Michael Grant:
It's becoming more and more rare, is it not, a retiree whose employer is picking up the tab for the health care coverage?

>> Patrick Klein:
Very much so. You'll notice most of the United States, you have the private employers who are shunning retiree health care programs. On the public sector, most public sector employers will continue to provide health care.

>> Michael Grant:
At some point in time it almost becomes a reason to take that job, does it not?

>> Patrick Klein:
It's one of the attractive features of working for the public sector, yes.

>> Michael Grant:
You were telling me an amazing statistic before we went on the air concerning the cost of a car you buy and how much of that goes to workers health care insurance coverage.

>> Patrick Klein:
One of the interesting facets about a new car is it's not so much the cost of the steel, the plastic, the rubber, the glass, the electronics that make up the automobile. It's more the cost of either the active employee health care program or if they also offer retiree health care to former members. The total cost of the health care program, that I'll call it the state of Michigan, Ford versus General Motors versus Chrysler versus any of the others, the main component expense of that car happens to be the health care program.

>> Michael Grant:
That's amazing. How large a universe are we talking about here, people retiring before becoming Medicare eligible and therefore will find themselves in this kind of a situation?

>> Patrick Klein:
With the affluent society we have today, you're going to see many people doing second and third careers, they will work for employers for a short time and move on, or find a new talent or school. With the public sector, you're looking at the average length of service our retirees have are fully 18 years or greater. The average age of someone who works for the state for a short period of time and moves on, you're looking at 5 to 7 years. They tend to turn somewhat quickly but not as quickly as if you're going to spend your entire career with the public sector.

>> Michael Grant:
Are public employers picking up less of the tab than, let's say, they might have 20 years ago?

>> Patrick Klein:
Less of the tab.

>> Michael Grant:
On insurance, health care insurance coverage.

>> Patrick Klein:
The way plans have changed over time, this is a very interesting point you bring up, the way health care programs have evolved over time, a long time ago you just -- back in the '50s and '60s, you had a health care program where your medical plan will let you see any doctor for any reason. And some of the expense would be covered, some would not be, there used to be deductibles with that. Usually a percentage of the bill was the responsibility of the patient or the employee. Over time we've seen where because of the rising cost of health care and it wasn't that long ago, mid '70s. A nick el out of every dollar went to health care, now it's much higher. You have to find the increasing spiral of premiums or control the way the medical dollars are spent. The way they do that is offer different programs, HMO. There are still indemnity programs but those are becoming the dinosaur. You have programs where they try to provide best of a preferred provider and HMO. You have all these different kinds of medical plans designed to basically control cost. I know our topic is to talk about early retirees and the dilemma they're facing. It's not so much early retiree, it's a problem that faces every retiree. Someone who is not eligible for Medicare or someone who is eligible for Medicare. It is a, first off it's a very complex issue. I don't want to oversimplify it. There are a lot of stakeholders in the delivery of health care. It is a national crisis, how does the U.S. compare to other nations. It's a social crisis, from the standpoint active employees versus non-eligible Medicare retirees, versus eligible Medicare retirees. We have been able to hold premiums constant since 2002. We have done it by changing some of the provisions within the program to take advantage of those kinds of benefits that are being offered within the medical plan that aren't being used so we rechannel those dollars that aren't being used.

>> Michael Grant:
Let's say you're a retiree who is not yet Medicare eligible, are there viable -- and your employer doesn't provide anything. You're just, you're on your own. Are there viable options for you to secure at a fairly reasonable cost some health care coverage for yourself and let's say your spouse as well?

>> Patrick Klein:
Let me give you another statistic. Within the 70,000 retirees, we cover about 28,000. Your first question is what happens to the other 42,000. A good majority of them are covered by their employer plan. After that, those who don't have coverage from the public sector employer or Arizona state retirement, elected officials, they get their plan from the state retirement system, they have gone out and gotten another job or biggie backed on their spouse's plan or picked up a private plan.

>> Michael Grant:
Are there fairly affordable private plans that you can tap into if you're in that situation?

>> Patrick Klein:
Yes and no. I hate to sound ambivalent. You can or can't depending on your health. If you are relatively healthy, you can pick up a relatively inexpensive plan.

>> Michael Grant:
All right, Patrick Klein of the retirement system, we appreciate you joining us.

>> Patrick Klein:
Thank you, Michael.

>> Michael Grant:
She is the second woman to serve as Chief Justice of Arizona's Supreme Court. And Ruth McGregor has started her five-year tenure with an outreach program and by speaking out against foes of judicial independence. I'll talk with Justice McGregor about those issues and more. She was honored earlier this week in a ceremony attended by her mentor. Mike Sauceda tells us more.

>> Mike Sauceda:
It was an event attended by many dignitaries, including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was there to help honor her former law clerk.

>> We are very pleased to give today the Dwight D. Opperman award for judicial excellence to the Honorable Ruth McGregor.

>> Mike Sauceda:
Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor was given the award by the American Judicature Society, a national group of judges, lawyers and other members. The award was presented by last year's recipient, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abramson. It is given to an outstanding state judge and is named for the former CEO of West Publishing Company, which provides a legal database for the legal community. Justice O'Connor said that Justice McGregor was fully deserving of the award.

>> Justice O'Connor:
I have seen at close range her character, her personality, her intellect, her ability in every way. And I can tell you, I don't know of anyone with greater ability than Ruth McGregor. Or a nicer manner. She never got upset that miserable first year at the court. I never heard her express despair or a harsh word. It is not at all surprising to me that she was selected for this award. I can't imagine a better selection.

>> Ruth McGregor:
I'm so honored to receive this year's Opperman award, which is particularly meaningful to me for several reasons. First, it's meaningful because it is presented by the American Judicature Society. The AJS is one of the most respected and effective organizations concerned with the judicial system. For more than 90 years, AJS has played a major role in assuring an independent and qualified judiciary. The award really is a tribute to the entire Arizona court system where our judges, our staff, our clerks of court and our volunteers, both lay volunteers and lawyers work tirelessly to provide justice to the tens of thousands of people who come to our courts every year and I accept the award on behalf of that system. Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
Here now is the Honorable Ruth McGregor, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. High praise, deservedly so.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
Be honest now, no despair whatsoever through that first year?

>> Ruth McGregor:
There was a lot of confusion that first year. As Justice O'Connor mentioned the other night, we really didn't know how the United States Supreme Court ran. Despair, probably not. It was too exciting to be despairing about things.

>> Michael Grant:
Justice O'Connor was very candid with the students at that event.

>> Ruth McGregor:
I thought so.

>> Michael Grant:
Were you a little surprised by that?

>> Ruth McGregor:
I think that she is to the point in her career where she feels perhaps more free to speak out and to say what she thinks about things that have happened and the way things are going. I think we see that in her comments, that she is becoming more direct.

>> Michael Grant:
It was at another speaking engagement locally, we have seen a lot of her this month, which is terrific. I think she was reflecting on the current confirmation process and she just described her confirmation process, I think she said one of the most excruciating experiences in her life.


>> Ruth McGregor:
She might have called it dreadful.

>> Michael Grant:
Right, she was at a table all by herself. And it would not be something, I think, to be looking forward to. Are you settled into your spot as chief justice?

>> Ruth McGregor:
I'm getting settled in, I think. It's a very big job. We have such a large court system and there are so many administrative responsibilities. But we really do have a terrific court system with a lot of very good judges and clerks and staff members and administrators. But there's a lot to learn as chief justice in over seeing the system.

>> Michael Grant:
You have picked up in a book, Good To Great, as I understand it is written about business, you think it can be applied to the court system.

>> Ruth McGregor:
It was written by Jim Collins, who gave us the approval to use the title. It's a challenge we have given to our court system, to see what they are doing in particular area, how they can make it better. Even if they are doing it well, and there are many areas where they are doing it well, we can always make it better. The court system has always moved from good to grit. We have municipal courts, Superior Courts, appellate courts looking to see how they can do things better.

>> Michael Grant:
Let me have you comment Good To Great on each one. Providing access to swift, fair justice, how do we go from good to great?

>> Ruth McGregor:
We make our courts more accessible, regardless of what might limit accessibility. For self represented litigants, interactive forms so when they have to filed a form themselves in the court they know immediately whether they are doing it correctly. We have a task force looking at DUI processing, in some parts of the state it does not go very well. It's bad for the defendants, it's bad for the victims and it's bad for the justice system. By next month I'll have a report from the task force as to what we can do to make that system move from good to great.

>> Michael Grant:
Computers really help a lot.

>> Ruth McGregor:
So much.

>> Michael Grant:
The thought was triggered by the form and the proper thing.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Right.

>> Michael Grant:
There's more and more of that built into the court system.

>> Ruth McGregor:
There is. We keep improving our case management system. One of our justice courts is looking at using electronic filing for landlord-tenant disputes. We have some work to do on that. Without the new court case system, we couldn't even be talking about that.

>> Michael Grant:
Protecting children, family and community.

>> Ruth McGregor:
There are a lot of things we are doing here. We adopted a model court program which moves the children through the system into permanent placement quickly. We're looking for better ways to give notice to victims, that involves technology so they can learn about hearings, when they are set, changed. We are looking at better ways to serve victims of domestic violence, orders of protection. A lot of that depends on technology and we can do things today that we couldn't do a few years ago.

>> Michael Grant:
And child protective services fine tuning, that is part of that changing coordination between executive branch and judicial branch?

>> Ruth McGregor:
One of the things we're looking for is when the state files an action involving children we are looking for ways to get quicker judicial intervention which is one of the things we have learned in all of these areas can move cases along more quickly, a result more efficiently if our judges get involved earlier. While we have to be always attentive to the separation of powers, we don't control obviously the actions that are brought by the executive branch, we can work together to move things more quickly through once they get there so that there are fewer hearings to reach the same result, there's less wasted time. We can get to the child's placement for quickly.

>> Michael Grant:
Being accountable.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Yeah, that involves with the notion that our courts have to be accountable to the public for what we do. What we're doing here is looking at court performance standards which we have promised we would look at. The national center for state courts developed a set of court measurement tools, called court tools, all one word and Maricopa County Superior Court has instituted most of the standards. We have a justice court pilot project to see what extent we can use the same performance standards. We're looking at how the court itself is performing, is it efficient, giving the service it needs, is it responsive to the people that come in.

>> Michael Grant:
Is it moving cases along, setting them within a reasonable period of time, those kinds of things.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Those kinds of things and is it using its resources properly so that we're concentrating resources in the areas where we need them most.

>> Michael Grant:
Improving communication and cooperating with the community. I don't normally think of that as a prime mission of the court.

>> Ruth McGregor:
It's very important, though, because in order for the public, the users of the courts to know how to use the courts and what the courts can do them, we have to be out communicating with the public. Part of that, the longer version of that goal is to communicate better with other branches of government and communicate within the various levels of our court system. This really ties very much into the notion of the importance of an impartial judiciary, if people are to understand how important that is to our American democratic system of government, they have to understand how we work and why independence and impartiality are important. Go back to the first goal, keeping the courts accessible, we have to communicate with the public so they understand what the courts are all about. For us to work within the three-branch system of government, we have to be working with the other branches of government so we are respectful of the different duties imposed on us but also looking for ways to work cooperatively. And within our judicial branch, we have a lot of different kinds of courts, justice court, municipal, state court, we have to work together and be respectful of what other parts of the system do.

>> Michael Grant:
I think it's relevant in this context, the multi branch context, routinely, each legislative session there are a variety of bills offered, some say this will improve the system, others say you're attacking judicial independence. That's never going to stop, isn't that sort of one of the classic elements of the battle between a couple of different branches of government?

>> Ruth McGregor:
There's a certain amount of healthy tension between branches and I think that should be there and always be there. What's not healthy to our form of government is when the tension between the branches goes beyond that healthy level, destructive of one branch than the other. The area that concerns me are those things that would make judges dependent upon special interest groups, particular political points of view. That's very different from the kind of government that we have depended on to develop this nation for 200 years.

>> Michael Grant:
In other words, popularly electing judges.

>> Ruth McGregor:
There are states that elect judges. Judicial elections have become very different than what they used to be. They used to be focused on the qualifications of the person who wants to be a judge. Now they have become more influenced by special interest groups. I think in the states there is real concerned about that. If our judges are no longer neutral in resolving disputes, if they are looking over their shoulder to see whether a particular group approves of what they are doing, then I think we have lost something very important to our American tradition of government.

>> Michael Grant:
On a different scale, you see it sometimes being played out in confirmation hearings, if I recall.

>> Ruth McGregor:
And I think we've been hearing about that from some of the senators saying this should not be about whether a particular judge has a particular ideology, we want to make sure that the judge is really prepared to be a neutral, dispassionate observer who will apply the law to the facts. When somebody wants us to do something else in the judicial system, I think they have to be prepared to respond and to explain why they want to make the court more answerable to special groups.

>> Michael Grant:
Chief justice, congratulations on the award and thank you for being here.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Very glad to be here, Michael.

>> Michael Grant:
If you'd like more information about "Horizon", go to our website at www.azpbs.org. When you get to our home page, click on the word "Horizon". That will link you to transcripts or information about upcoming shows.

>> Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor speaks to ASU students and calls one of the recent court decisions pretty scary. And Phoenix city leaders give approval to Donald Trump to build some controversial high rises. Join us for the journalist's roundtable Friday at 7.

>> Michael Grant:
Those things and more on the Friday edition of journalist's roundtable. Thanks very much for joining us on a Thursday evening. Have a great one. Good night.

Chief Justice McGregor


  • Ruth McGregor, recently appointed Arizona's second female Chief Justice, will join HORIZON to talk about her new role and her interest in increasing the court's public outreach efforts.
Guests:
  • Patrick Klein - Assistant Director of external affairs, Arizona State Retirement System
  • Ruth McGregor - Arizona Chief Justice


View Transcript
>> Michael Grant:
Tonight on "Horizon", what happens to your medical coverage after you retire? We'll get some answers. Plus, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor will talk about issues affecting the court, including one that's under attack -- judicial independence. That's next on "Horizon".

>> Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible by the friends of Channel 8, members who provide financial support to this Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon". I'm Michael Grant. Tonight, we conclude our four-part series: "Arizona's Health Insurance Crisis." It used to be that when you retired, in many cases insurance benefits were provided and paid for you by your employer. But that is becoming more rare, as retiring employees are having to pick up a bigger part of the cost of insurance. And that can be particularly tough for those not old enough for Medicare upon retirement. I'll talk to an official from the Arizona State Retirement system about the situation. But first, Mike Sauceda tells us about one retired union employee who still enjoys full coverage at no charge.

>> Mike Sauceda:
One of the biggest concerns of those retiring early is the cost of medical insurance. Many retirees lose the employer provided subsidy for insurance when they leave the job. President Doug Hart has full coverage with no premium.

>> Doug Hart:
I'm retired but I am covered. In a couple weeks I have to have minor surgery, it will cover 80\% of it. It don't affect my life very much because I have coverage. My mother who lives with us, who worked as a waitress, taking in laundry, trying to raise myself and two sisters has no coverage. She lives with us because of that. Her drugs cost $300 a month and her Social Security check is 800 so most of it goes to drugs.

>> Mike Sauceda:
for those with no such protection, retirement can be a tough decision.

>> I think that's the primary why most people don't retire now until they reach Social Security coverage, age 65, now going to be 66 pretty soon. So because they have to pay $1,000 a month or more if they can get health coverage at all. Therein lies the problem.

>> Michael Grant:
Here now to tell us more about insurance after retirement is Patrick Klein, assistant director of external affairs for the Arizona State Retirement System. Pat, good to see you.

>> Patrick Klein:
Good to see you, too, Michael.

>> Michael Grant:
It's becoming more and more rare, is it not, a retiree whose employer is picking up the tab for the health care coverage?

>> Patrick Klein:
Very much so. You'll notice most of the United States, you have the private employers who are shunning retiree health care programs. On the public sector, most public sector employers will continue to provide health care.

>> Michael Grant:
At some point in time it almost becomes a reason to take that job, does it not?

>> Patrick Klein:
It's one of the attractive features of working for the public sector, yes.

>> Michael Grant:
You were telling me an amazing statistic before we went on the air concerning the cost of a car you buy and how much of that goes to workers health care insurance coverage.

>> Patrick Klein:
One of the interesting facets about a new car is it's not so much the cost of the steel, the plastic, the rubber, the glass, the electronics that make up the automobile. It's more the cost of either the active employee health care program or if they also offer retiree health care to former members. The total cost of the health care program, that I'll call it the state of Michigan, Ford versus General Motors versus Chrysler versus any of the others, the main component expense of that car happens to be the health care program.

>> Michael Grant:
That's amazing. How large a universe are we talking about here, people retiring before becoming Medicare eligible and therefore will find themselves in this kind of a situation?

>> Patrick Klein:
With the affluent society we have today, you're going to see many people doing second and third careers, they will work for employers for a short time and move on, or find a new talent or school. With the public sector, you're looking at the average length of service our retirees have are fully 18 years or greater. The average age of someone who works for the state for a short period of time and moves on, you're looking at 5 to 7 years. They tend to turn somewhat quickly but not as quickly as if you're going to spend your entire career with the public sector.

>> Michael Grant:
Are public employers picking up less of the tab than, let's say, they might have 20 years ago?

>> Patrick Klein:
Less of the tab.

>> Michael Grant:
On insurance, health care insurance coverage.

>> Patrick Klein:
The way plans have changed over time, this is a very interesting point you bring up, the way health care programs have evolved over time, a long time ago you just -- back in the '50s and '60s, you had a health care program where your medical plan will let you see any doctor for any reason. And some of the expense would be covered, some would not be, there used to be deductibles with that. Usually a percentage of the bill was the responsibility of the patient or the employee. Over time we've seen where because of the rising cost of health care and it wasn't that long ago, mid '70s. A nick el out of every dollar went to health care, now it's much higher. You have to find the increasing spiral of premiums or control the way the medical dollars are spent. The way they do that is offer different programs, HMO. There are still indemnity programs but those are becoming the dinosaur. You have programs where they try to provide best of a preferred provider and HMO. You have all these different kinds of medical plans designed to basically control cost. I know our topic is to talk about early retirees and the dilemma they're facing. It's not so much early retiree, it's a problem that faces every retiree. Someone who is not eligible for Medicare or someone who is eligible for Medicare. It is a, first off it's a very complex issue. I don't want to oversimplify it. There are a lot of stakeholders in the delivery of health care. It is a national crisis, how does the U.S. compare to other nations. It's a social crisis, from the standpoint active employees versus non-eligible Medicare retirees, versus eligible Medicare retirees. We have been able to hold premiums constant since 2002. We have done it by changing some of the provisions within the program to take advantage of those kinds of benefits that are being offered within the medical plan that aren't being used so we rechannel those dollars that aren't being used.

>> Michael Grant:
Let's say you're a retiree who is not yet Medicare eligible, are there viable -- and your employer doesn't provide anything. You're just, you're on your own. Are there viable options for you to secure at a fairly reasonable cost some health care coverage for yourself and let's say your spouse as well?

>> Patrick Klein:
Let me give you another statistic. Within the 70,000 retirees, we cover about 28,000. Your first question is what happens to the other 42,000. A good majority of them are covered by their employer plan. After that, those who don't have coverage from the public sector employer or Arizona state retirement, elected officials, they get their plan from the state retirement system, they have gone out and gotten another job or biggie backed on their spouse's plan or picked up a private plan.

>> Michael Grant:
Are there fairly affordable private plans that you can tap into if you're in that situation?

>> Patrick Klein:
Yes and no. I hate to sound ambivalent. You can or can't depending on your health. If you are relatively healthy, you can pick up a relatively inexpensive plan.

>> Michael Grant:
All right, Patrick Klein of the retirement system, we appreciate you joining us.

>> Patrick Klein:
Thank you, Michael.

>> Michael Grant:
She is the second woman to serve as Chief Justice of Arizona's Supreme Court. And Ruth McGregor has started her five-year tenure with an outreach program and by speaking out against foes of judicial independence. I'll talk with Justice McGregor about those issues and more. She was honored earlier this week in a ceremony attended by her mentor. Mike Sauceda tells us more.

>> Mike Sauceda:
It was an event attended by many dignitaries, including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was there to help honor her former law clerk.

>> We are very pleased to give today the Dwight D. Opperman award for judicial excellence to the Honorable Ruth McGregor.

>> Mike Sauceda:
Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor was given the award by the American Judicature Society, a national group of judges, lawyers and other members. The award was presented by last year's recipient, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abramson. It is given to an outstanding state judge and is named for the former CEO of West Publishing Company, which provides a legal database for the legal community. Justice O'Connor said that Justice McGregor was fully deserving of the award.

>> Justice O'Connor:
I have seen at close range her character, her personality, her intellect, her ability in every way. And I can tell you, I don't know of anyone with greater ability than Ruth McGregor. Or a nicer manner. She never got upset that miserable first year at the court. I never heard her express despair or a harsh word. It is not at all surprising to me that she was selected for this award. I can't imagine a better selection.

>> Ruth McGregor:
I'm so honored to receive this year's Opperman award, which is particularly meaningful to me for several reasons. First, it's meaningful because it is presented by the American Judicature Society. The AJS is one of the most respected and effective organizations concerned with the judicial system. For more than 90 years, AJS has played a major role in assuring an independent and qualified judiciary. The award really is a tribute to the entire Arizona court system where our judges, our staff, our clerks of court and our volunteers, both lay volunteers and lawyers work tirelessly to provide justice to the tens of thousands of people who come to our courts every year and I accept the award on behalf of that system. Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
Here now is the Honorable Ruth McGregor, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. High praise, deservedly so.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
Be honest now, no despair whatsoever through that first year?

>> Ruth McGregor:
There was a lot of confusion that first year. As Justice O'Connor mentioned the other night, we really didn't know how the United States Supreme Court ran. Despair, probably not. It was too exciting to be despairing about things.

>> Michael Grant:
Justice O'Connor was very candid with the students at that event.

>> Ruth McGregor:
I thought so.

>> Michael Grant:
Were you a little surprised by that?

>> Ruth McGregor:
I think that she is to the point in her career where she feels perhaps more free to speak out and to say what she thinks about things that have happened and the way things are going. I think we see that in her comments, that she is becoming more direct.

>> Michael Grant:
It was at another speaking engagement locally, we have seen a lot of her this month, which is terrific. I think she was reflecting on the current confirmation process and she just described her confirmation process, I think she said one of the most excruciating experiences in her life.


>> Ruth McGregor:
She might have called it dreadful.

>> Michael Grant:
Right, she was at a table all by herself. And it would not be something, I think, to be looking forward to. Are you settled into your spot as chief justice?

>> Ruth McGregor:
I'm getting settled in, I think. It's a very big job. We have such a large court system and there are so many administrative responsibilities. But we really do have a terrific court system with a lot of very good judges and clerks and staff members and administrators. But there's a lot to learn as chief justice in over seeing the system.

>> Michael Grant:
You have picked up in a book, Good To Great, as I understand it is written about business, you think it can be applied to the court system.

>> Ruth McGregor:
It was written by Jim Collins, who gave us the approval to use the title. It's a challenge we have given to our court system, to see what they are doing in particular area, how they can make it better. Even if they are doing it well, and there are many areas where they are doing it well, we can always make it better. The court system has always moved from good to grit. We have municipal courts, Superior Courts, appellate courts looking to see how they can do things better.

>> Michael Grant:
Let me have you comment Good To Great on each one. Providing access to swift, fair justice, how do we go from good to great?

>> Ruth McGregor:
We make our courts more accessible, regardless of what might limit accessibility. For self represented litigants, interactive forms so when they have to filed a form themselves in the court they know immediately whether they are doing it correctly. We have a task force looking at DUI processing, in some parts of the state it does not go very well. It's bad for the defendants, it's bad for the victims and it's bad for the justice system. By next month I'll have a report from the task force as to what we can do to make that system move from good to great.

>> Michael Grant:
Computers really help a lot.

>> Ruth McGregor:
So much.

>> Michael Grant:
The thought was triggered by the form and the proper thing.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Right.

>> Michael Grant:
There's more and more of that built into the court system.

>> Ruth McGregor:
There is. We keep improving our case management system. One of our justice courts is looking at using electronic filing for landlord-tenant disputes. We have some work to do on that. Without the new court case system, we couldn't even be talking about that.

>> Michael Grant:
Protecting children, family and community.

>> Ruth McGregor:
There are a lot of things we are doing here. We adopted a model court program which moves the children through the system into permanent placement quickly. We're looking for better ways to give notice to victims, that involves technology so they can learn about hearings, when they are set, changed. We are looking at better ways to serve victims of domestic violence, orders of protection. A lot of that depends on technology and we can do things today that we couldn't do a few years ago.

>> Michael Grant:
And child protective services fine tuning, that is part of that changing coordination between executive branch and judicial branch?

>> Ruth McGregor:
One of the things we're looking for is when the state files an action involving children we are looking for ways to get quicker judicial intervention which is one of the things we have learned in all of these areas can move cases along more quickly, a result more efficiently if our judges get involved earlier. While we have to be always attentive to the separation of powers, we don't control obviously the actions that are brought by the executive branch, we can work together to move things more quickly through once they get there so that there are fewer hearings to reach the same result, there's less wasted time. We can get to the child's placement for quickly.

>> Michael Grant:
Being accountable.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Yeah, that involves with the notion that our courts have to be accountable to the public for what we do. What we're doing here is looking at court performance standards which we have promised we would look at. The national center for state courts developed a set of court measurement tools, called court tools, all one word and Maricopa County Superior Court has instituted most of the standards. We have a justice court pilot project to see what extent we can use the same performance standards. We're looking at how the court itself is performing, is it efficient, giving the service it needs, is it responsive to the people that come in.

>> Michael Grant:
Is it moving cases along, setting them within a reasonable period of time, those kinds of things.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Those kinds of things and is it using its resources properly so that we're concentrating resources in the areas where we need them most.

>> Michael Grant:
Improving communication and cooperating with the community. I don't normally think of that as a prime mission of the court.

>> Ruth McGregor:
It's very important, though, because in order for the public, the users of the courts to know how to use the courts and what the courts can do them, we have to be out communicating with the public. Part of that, the longer version of that goal is to communicate better with other branches of government and communicate within the various levels of our court system. This really ties very much into the notion of the importance of an impartial judiciary, if people are to understand how important that is to our American democratic system of government, they have to understand how we work and why independence and impartiality are important. Go back to the first goal, keeping the courts accessible, we have to communicate with the public so they understand what the courts are all about. For us to work within the three-branch system of government, we have to be working with the other branches of government so we are respectful of the different duties imposed on us but also looking for ways to work cooperatively. And within our judicial branch, we have a lot of different kinds of courts, justice court, municipal, state court, we have to work together and be respectful of what other parts of the system do.

>> Michael Grant:
I think it's relevant in this context, the multi branch context, routinely, each legislative session there are a variety of bills offered, some say this will improve the system, others say you're attacking judicial independence. That's never going to stop, isn't that sort of one of the classic elements of the battle between a couple of different branches of government?

>> Ruth McGregor:
There's a certain amount of healthy tension between branches and I think that should be there and always be there. What's not healthy to our form of government is when the tension between the branches goes beyond that healthy level, destructive of one branch than the other. The area that concerns me are those things that would make judges dependent upon special interest groups, particular political points of view. That's very different from the kind of government that we have depended on to develop this nation for 200 years.

>> Michael Grant:
In other words, popularly electing judges.

>> Ruth McGregor:
There are states that elect judges. Judicial elections have become very different than what they used to be. They used to be focused on the qualifications of the person who wants to be a judge. Now they have become more influenced by special interest groups. I think in the states there is real concerned about that. If our judges are no longer neutral in resolving disputes, if they are looking over their shoulder to see whether a particular group approves of what they are doing, then I think we have lost something very important to our American tradition of government.

>> Michael Grant:
On a different scale, you see it sometimes being played out in confirmation hearings, if I recall.

>> Ruth McGregor:
And I think we've been hearing about that from some of the senators saying this should not be about whether a particular judge has a particular ideology, we want to make sure that the judge is really prepared to be a neutral, dispassionate observer who will apply the law to the facts. When somebody wants us to do something else in the judicial system, I think they have to be prepared to respond and to explain why they want to make the court more answerable to special groups.

>> Michael Grant:
Chief justice, congratulations on the award and thank you for being here.

>> Ruth McGregor:
Very glad to be here, Michael.

>> Michael Grant:
If you'd like more information about "Horizon", go to our website at www.azpbs.org. When you get to our home page, click on the word "Horizon". That will link you to transcripts or information about upcoming shows.

>> Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor speaks to ASU students and calls one of the recent court decisions pretty scary. And Phoenix city leaders give approval to Donald Trump to build some controversial high rises. Join us for the journalist's roundtable Friday at 7.

>> Michael Grant:
Those things and more on the Friday edition of journalist's roundtable. Thanks very much for joining us on a Thursday evening. Have a great one. Good night.

What's on?

Content Partner:

  About KAET Contact Support Legal Follow Us  
  About Eight
Mission/Impact
History
Site Map
Pressroom
Contact Us
Sign up for e-news
Pledge to Eight
Donate Monthly
Volunteer
Other ways to support
FCC Public Files
Privacy Policy
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
Google+
Pinterest
 

Need help accessing? Contact disabilityaccess@asu.edu

Eight is a member-supported service of Arizona State University    Copyright Arizona Board of Regents