Lucy: Could the answer to a backlog of court cases be found online? Michigan counties, including Washtenaw and several others, are now using an online platform to improve court efficiency and access to justice. Co-founder of Court Innovations who is supplying this is MJ Cartwright and she joins us this morning to talk about how this works. What kinds of cases are we talking about doing online with this platform?
MJ: We’re talking about cases such as outstanding warrants that people may have such as failure-to-appear or failure-to-pay, and also specific traffic tickets.
Lucy: So how does it work exactly, MJ?
MJ: So let’s take a traffic ticket that you may get in Pittsfield township and you’re pulled over by an officer who provides you a ticket for speeding or running a red light. And it says right on there, “Hey if you want online case review go to this website,” which is the court’s website at 14-A district court. And it’ll have an area on there for you to go online to do a case review. You enter your information on your mobile phone, your laptop, your computer and you say, “Yes I want a case review.” And it actually goes to the police department who looks at it and they say “Alright, this person has a pretty good record. They’ve only been pulled over once in the last five years. And I’m going to send this to the court for a final viewing and processing.” And then you on your mobile phone or email get information back that says “You’ve been provided an offer and if you accept this offer this will be your payment and this is the process.”
Lucy: That’s amazing!
MJ: Yeah! So you don’t have to go to court, or take that day off – that you may not have, you don’t have to wait in any lines, you don’t have to figure out what court to go to. For example, if you are in Pittsfield township you may not know what court in Wasthenaw county you need to go to.
Lucy: Do you get to plead your case online to the people that are reviewing it?
MJ: Yes. So we have an area right in there, and this is really important for the courts. They wanted the voice of the defendant heard. So you type in exactly your explanation for the court that you want them to look at. And its not just an automated system or a robot that goes through this. People read this and these courts also respond to you online or via text to let you know why they may not be providing an offer to you or what you did wrong and let’s not do it again situation.
Lucy: How did you come up with this? What is your background, MJ? Your Court Innovations company, founded by yourself and law professor JJ Prescott. So how did this all come about?
MJ: Well, actually the two founders, University of Michigan law professor JJ Prescott and one of the founders was one of his former students Ben Gubernick. They brought me in because I worked with University of Michigan’s Tech Transfer and various companies from a technology standpoint.
Lucy: And so who actually designed the software for it? They did?
MJ: No, they came up with the idea as to how can we work with courts on high-volume cases that really just congest the courts. So that’s where the idea came from. And why in this day and age are we not better using technology to help people in the justice system and for those people who cannot get to court? Let’s make it fair. So that if I can’t get to court because I can’t take the day off, and professor Prescott can get to court because he can take the day off, it should be fair for both of us. So that’s the premise of it.
Lucy: The platform is actually called Matterhorn, is that right?
MJ: Yeah, it’s called Matterhorn and they brought me and a team on board so we can develop the software – design and develop it. And that is what courts are using today.
Lucy: How has this helped in Washtenaw County? I know that you recently presented at the National Center for State Courts Court Technology Conference and were looking at Bay County. Apparently, it has had quite an impact on the case resolution up there. What about here in Washtenaw county?
MJ: Yeah, you know, cases that are heard in the court can take up to many weeks or months to be heard. Matterhorn cases are being heard and processed and closed out in less than a week. That is really fast for the courts but more importantly it is fast for the citizens.
Lucy: Do you think there are other kinds of cases that this would be good for? Or is it pretty much just the traffic tickets and others you described, the violations and warrants?
MJ: Well, there are approximately over a million warrants in the state of Michigan so that is a lot of cases. We’re working with courts on cases that maybe you don’t’ have a warrant yet, but you can work with the court before you’re issued a warrant so you don’t have that hanging over your head for arrest. So we’re working with Grand Rapids on that and we launched last month. We are working with East Lansing on parking tickets. And we’re just finishing a system that will launch soon on misdemeanors for driving with license suspended out in Kent County.
Lucy: Wow, changing the face of the courts. Do you know if they are doing this in any other state?
MJ: There are different ways to process tickets so you’ll see a lot of centralization of ticket processing in different states. But you don’t see quite this tool of negotiation and processing where the courts are involved, but they don’t have to meet with you face to face. It’s a unique skill.
Lucy: MJ Cartwright on the air with us on the Lucy Ann Lance Show on 1290 WLBY. She is one of the founders of Court Innovations and talking about how this online case resolution is really doing a great job with the high volume of cases that are out there and making it easier for people to get their cases settled. The only thing that I wonder about is that you always hope when you get a traffic ticket that the cop is not going show up in court and I assume the cop shows up for this.
MJ: Yes, true, but its also one of those cases where you have more information available to you. and you’re not dealing with in-the-moment confrontation, you know you pull that confrontation out of the equation and it becomes a more logical way to solve these issues. So yeah, there is that element but just because the police officer can’t show up doesn’t mean that you’re going to get off on the ticket.
Lucy: Well, true, and not having to take off time from work or having to navigate the court system by being down there is a big relief to a lot of people. Interesting. They say citizens and the court system are equally benefiting from Court Innovations efficient system that ensures justice and fairness are served. Online resolution to your court cases. Great talking to MJ Cartwright this morning on Tech Thursday, WLBY.