The Next Idea: Virtual court appearances could diminish bias, improve efficiency

Credit Flickr/Joe Gratz /

Listen to the full interview here.

Traffic tickets and low-level misdemeanors aren’t supposed to ruin lives and cost taxpayers millions.

For most of these offenses, paying a fine or arguing a case before a judge should be a fairly straightforward, low-hassle matter.

Yet there are plenty of reasons why these minor violations end up as major problems.

People can’t afford to pay the fines. Taking off work in order to appear in court can be difficult, especially for people who have children, mobility issues, or inflexible jobs. Fears of bias – racial, economic, gender – in the courtroom can prevent some from even addressing their legal issues until they’re compelled to do so. And for a person who possesses even a tiny element of a lack of self-confidence (hint: we all do), courts are intimidating places.

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Court Innovations on the Lucy Ann Lance Show

LucyAnneListen to the full interview here.


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.

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East Lansing 54B District Court Offers Online Arrest Warrant Resolution

The exterior of East Lansing's district court.EAST LANSING, Mich. — The East Lansing 54B District Court has added another online platform with Court Innovations Matterhorn.

Through this new program, defendants with outstanding arrest warrants for failure to pay fines and costs may resolve the matter with the court online. Prior to this new online solution, a defendant could only appear in front of the judge to get the warrant canceled.

Individuals using this new platform will be asked a series of qualifying questions to determine whether they are eligible to resolve the arrest warrant online. If eligible, a defendant can submit their request online, where it will be reviewed by court personnel to confirm the warrant is for failure to pay fines and costs. From there, the defendant can pay and have their warrant canceled and receive notification via text or email that the case is resolved and closed.

East Lansing 54B District Court Chief Judge Andrea Andrews Larkin approves of the customer service aspect of the program.
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Saving Time, Saving Money, Saving the System

Bob Ciolek 14A Court Administrator

Bob Ciolek, 14A Court Administrator

The district courts of Michigan have stuck to the same routine for too long. Civilians take time off of work to wait hours in a courtroom, only to have a 5 minute conversation to negotiate a minor traffic violation. Police officers spend entire days in courthouses instead of engaging the community, enforcing the law and protecting the public. Judges and magistrates have less time to work with defendants who have broken more serious and concerning laws. Meanwhile, it is up to the court staff to smooth out this entire process and manage the backlogged court docket.

Not only is this process inefficient for everyone involved, it wastes valuable county resources. But there is a better way.

14A District Court in Washtenaw County recently adopted Matterhorn, an online platform that allows citizens, law enforcement, and the magistrate to resolve traffic violations. With this system, we have improved case turnaround from months to days, freeing up the court docket. And we’ve given time back to law enforcement officers who no longer have to appear in court to answer minor citations. Lastly, it has freed up valuable time for the judge and magistrate.

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Courts are reinventing for the 21st Century

Judge Dawn A. Klida

Judge Dawn Klida Michigan 74th District Court

There’s never been a better, and more pressing, time for courts to enter the digital age. Online platforms aimed at connecting the courts, police, prosecutors, and citizens are designed to help courts reduce the overwhelming backlog of cases that has become the norm throughout the country. This inefficiency doesn’t do justice to our court system, our communities, or our citizens.

It’s hard to imagine, in the context of today’s court model, a citizen being satisfied with their judicial experience. And it’s easy to understand why, when judges and prosecutors share that frustration, born of too many cases and too little time.

Online platforms can enable the courts to act as the central role in connecting people and prosecutors to the justice system, optimizing the process and taking care of cases that don’t need to be heard in court.

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WILX – Lansing Court Launches Online Ticket Review

Lansing’s 54-A District Court is launching a new online service that provides an opportunity for drivers to resolve certain traffic tickets without having to come to court.

The Court has contracted with Court Innovations Matterhorn to offer an online platform through which a motorist can request to have his or her ticket reviewed.

The program walks the individual through a series of questions to determine whether they are eligible to resolve the violation online. If eligible, the individual can submit the request for review by the Lansing Police Department. Once approved there, the request is forwarded to a judge or magistrate for final determination. Defendants can follow the process of their case, and will be notified of the judge’s decision by text or email

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WOOD TV 8 – Program to issue fewer bench warrants in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The 61st District Court in Grand Rapids is starting a pilot program on Monday aimed at decreasing the number of bench warrants issued for and arrests of people who don’t show up to hearings.

Court Administrator Gary Secor explained the program to 24 Hour News 8. He said the court issues about 5,500 bench warrants each year for defendants who fail to appear.

The 61st District Court handles mostly misdemeanor cases. Secor said in many instances, there could be a valid reason for the no-show.

“Maybe you couldn’t arrange for child care that day. Maybe you didn’t have transportation. Maybe you lost your hearing notice date and you couldn’t find it,” Secor said.

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SE Michigan Startup – Seeing is believing spurs growth for Court Innovations

Few things are as effective at closing a deal as getting the customer to interact with the product. Seeing is believing is not just a cliche, but the way Court Innovations grows its business.

“As soon as they see it operating they see the value in it,” says MJ Cartwright, CEO of Court Innovations. “They really get it and want to start using it.”

The downtown Ann Arbor-based startup has a software platform that most people would love to see in their local judicial system. Litigants using Court Innovations’ software can navigate their local court system online for things like civil infractions. Think less standing in line in a court house and more clicking on a mouse pad at home.

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SPARK – Court Innovations expanding access to the court system, one click at a time

Court Innovations, the first company to spin out of University of Michigan Law School, is expanding access to the court system, one click at a time. Its online platform, MatterhornTM, frees citizens to resolve outstanding issues without going to court. Matterhorn is currently in use at several Michigan courts, and Court Innovations has grown to 10 employees and interns in the last year.

There’s no denying the need for an innovative approach to handling the backlog of cases that judges and the courts currently experience, and that offering a new way for citizens to interact with the court can improve the judicial process. This truly transformative opportunity is what inspired JJ Prescott, a law professor at University of Michigan and his former student Ben Gubernick, to found Court Innovations and push the technology to market.
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Michigan Supreme Court – Online ticket review helps make courts more accessible and efficient

LANSING, MI, June 8, 2015 – A pilot online program is making resolution of minor disputes and violations faster and easier for citizens, courts, and law enforcement. Online ticket review was launched this week in East Lansing’s 54B District Court and is already running in Pittsfield Township, City of Ypsilanti, City of Saline, Northfield Township, Highland Park, and Bay County.

By following an easy online procedure, the public can resolve certain tickets, outstanding fines, and missed court dates without missing work. “Online ticket review helps to make the justice system more accessible and convenient for the public,” said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young. Jr. “The system also saves time for judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement, making our justice system more efficient.”

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