The Constitution of the Commonwealth Puerto Rico gives the chief justice of the Supreme Court the responsibility for the administration of the judicial system and authorizes the appointment of an administrative director to assist with that task. This administrative official serves at the discretion of the chief justice. The full Supreme Court also has an important role, as it has the ability to approve the administrative rules that govern the system. Both the chief justice and the full Supreme Court perform their institutional roles with the independence the judicial branch has as one of the three branches of government.

The chief justice has the Office of Courts Administration (OAT for its Spanish acronym) as a support system for the administration of the judicial branch. A director of the courts leads the OAT. The office’s general functions are:

1. To develop a uniform administrative system that provides support and allows quicker judicial processes.

2. To ensure compliance with the established administrative procedures to provide uniformity, continuity and efficiency in providing services.

3. To request and justify the public funding necessary for the system to function.

4. To serve as a facilitating agent to the island’s courts, providing them with the most appropriate human, physical and fiscal resources within the constraints of the system’s budget.

5. To develop and keep up to date the information systems that are used for disseminating, planning, directing, operating and evaluating judicial administrative activity.

6. To evaluate the impact on the system of legislative measures that could affect it.

7. To investigate improper conduct by judicial branch personnel, including judges, with the exception of the Supreme Court.

8. To represent the judicial branch and its personnel in legal matters in those cases in which the Department of Justice is not responsible for representation.

9. To make recommendations to the chief justice to improve the operation of the system and for the assignment and transfer of judges, and to carry out measures ordered by the chief justice with the objective of achieving the best administration of the courts.

Both the Court of Appeals and the judicial regions of the Court of First Instance have regional administrative judges who answer to the chief justice and the administrative director of the courts for compliance with the administrative rules and operations of each region. All the regional administrative judges and executive directors are part of an advisory group called the Judicial Advisory Council.

The summary organizational chart shown here shows the multi-faceted complexity of the administrative system of the judicial branch. This system operates in parallel to the work done in the courtrooms and is essential for the competent performance of the tasks done daily in the courts. For a democratic society to function appropriately under the rule of law, it is essential for the judiciary to perform its role efficiently and impartially. Otherwise, it cannot gain public confidence, which is essential for any judicial system to operate appropriately.

For this reason, there is a consensus among the social sectors that are most educated and aware of democratic principles, that the judicial branch, unlike the other two branches of government, must be isolated from partisan battles at all times. If political parties are necessary for organizing the governmental succession process by nominating candidates for elective offices and organizing political campaigns, there is a consensus that the judicial branch is the one branch of government that should be disconnected from partisan interests, both in the appointment of judges and in the administration of the courts. Although the Constitution grants the governor the authority to nominate judges, there is also a consensus that appointments should be based on criteria of professional competence and not partisan or special interests. This responsibility extends to the members of the judiciary (and all politicians), but it is particularly true for the chief justice of the Supreme Court (and the OAT), which are responsible for the implementation of trustworthy judicial rules and practices applicable to the entire judicial branch.

Author: Roberto Gándara Sánchez
Published: September 11, 2014.

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