Imaginative Justice

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Image by Clyde Robinson*

One of my goals in writing for this blog is to convince readers that imagination is not some mysterious gift that only artists and a few other “special” individuals possess. In fact, we all have it, and it plays a role in every field and profession. My past entries have shown imagination at work in the arts and sciences, business, education, government, and religion, but recent news from California turns the spotlight on the justice system. “What?” you may ask. “Courts, cases? Where, in such a rigidly organized structure, is there room for imagination?” Amador Superior Court of Amador County, CA, has answered that question.

Scott Thomas Anderson in the Ledger Dispatch reports that on March 3, the Judicial Council of California awarded the Ralph N. Kleps Award for Improvement in the Administration of the Courts to Amador Superior Court. One of the award’s criteria is that the nominated program “must be innovative, meaning that it must create or significantly enhance a concept, goal and/or objective that improves the performance and practices of the court relative to its size, community and available resources.” As we at Lincoln Center Institute know, innovation never comes without the seed of imagination. The employees of the small, rural Amador court imagined a Web-based program that would help clerks process cases more efficiently—and then they made it an innovative reality.

During the award ceremony, Judge Dennis E. Murray of Tehama County explained, “This award is meant to encourage creativity in our judicial system.” Accepting the award on behalf of his staff, Judge David Richmond expressed amazement “at the amount of thought, collaboration, and imagination that went into this project.” These statements, as well as the aforementioned award criteria, suggest that the “ICI Continuum” (imagination > creativity > innovation) was at the core of Amador’s achievement. And the feeling I get is that this isn’t the romantic story of some groundbreaking flash of insight—what many people think of when they think of imagination—but rather is the tale of a community of day-in, day-out imaginative problem solvers who put their heads together and came up with an intelligent, novel idea.

Amador County Superior Court’s winning of the Ralph N. Kleps Award is noteworthy on two counts. First, it’s an example of imagination touching a field not previously discussed in this blog: the justice system. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the folks in Amador represent the ideal that Eric Liu and I ask readers to strive toward in Imagination First: a close-knit group of routinely imaginative thinkers working hard and doing great things.

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*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

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