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Utahns have high opinions about state courts, survey indicates

Published: Monday, Nov. 19 2012 5:24 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A survey about the public's confidence in the courts shows that a large majority have a high opinion about Utah's judicial system.

Eighty-one percent of those surveyed ranked the state's courts as good to excellent. The results, released Friday, were up slightly from the last survey in 2006, which showed 78 percent of Utahns ranked the courts good to excellent.

The survey, commissioned by the Utah Judicial Council, polled 800 Utah households that were asked 34 questions about the public's views on the courts, including their knowledge, expectations, familiarity, perception, experiences and confidence. About half of those surveyed had direct experience with the courts, either while serving on a jury or as a defendant in a criminal matter.

Court officials said the most notable changes between the 2006 and 2012 surveys involved how the public learns about the courts. In 2006, only 22 percent of respondents said they relied on the Internet as a frequent source of information. That number grew to 51 percent in the most recent survey. Sixty percent of citizens under the age of 45 relied on the Internet for their information about the courts "often or sometimes," the survey showed. 

The poll also indicated that those who were most familiar with the courts are those who obtained information from the Internet while those least familiar with the courts reported getting their information from TV dramas.

The results looked at what keeps people from taking cases to court, with respondents pointing to the cost of an attorney as the primary obstacle, followed by finding an alternative solution and the amount of time the court process takes away from work and home.

Certain factors impacted the responses, including whether the person surveyed had served as a juror or how a case they were involved in had ended. Those who served on a jury tended to have more confidence in the courts, with 50 percent of former jurors reporting that their experience on a jury improved their opinion of the courts.

Respondents who were involved in cases that ended in their favor were more positive toward the court system than those who had seen cases end with "unfavorable results."

Most survey participants — 92 percent — believe one of the court's most important functions is protecting constitutional rights. They also ranked public safety and reporting on court performance as important roles and gave the courts high scores when it came to protecting rights and public safety.

Eighty-three percent of those surveyed reported that they were Caucasian. More than 50 percent of respondents live in Salt Lake or Utah counties.

"The Utah Judicial Council will use the data to look at how the courts can improve services to the public," Utah State Court Administrator Dan Becker said in a prepared statement. "We will concentrate our efforts to improve communication to minority communities and work to minimize the barriers that are keeping the public from accessing their courts."

The 49 pages of survey results can be found on utcourts.gov under Related Performance Information in the Utah Courts Performance Measures heading.

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