ODR Video: College Town Court Connects with the Public Online

On May 8, 2019, Matterhorn hosted an ODR webinar: College Town Court Connects with the Public Online. The webinar featured Chief Judge Andrea Andrews Larkin, Court Administrator Nicole Evans, Robert Stump, and Sarah Cheesebro of the 54B District Court in East Lansing, Michigan.

Hear why the courted started with ODR in 2015 and what they learned and achieved through resolving over 5,000 cases online since launch.

For all who attended, thank you for your interest. For those who could not attend, and or the reference of those who attended, here are the webinar materials.

Court-Connected ODR Video

ODR Webinar Transcript

Dunrie Greiling, Host, Matterhorn Product Team

Well, welcome everybody. We’re going to let a couple minutes or a moment for people to join the room. Welcome. We’re so happy to see you on today’s webinar. Thank you for joining. We’ve just started the broadcast, and so people are kind of jumping into the meeting software. Great to see you this afternoon, morning, whatever time it is, wherever you are. The night maybe for someone? Yeah.

Nicole Evans, Court Administrator, 54B District Court

Oh, wow.

Dunrie

All right. The participant joining count has started to slow down, so I’m going to welcome you more formally. Hello, and welcome. Thank you for your interest in today’s topic, College Town Court Connects with the Public Online. My name is Dunrie Greiling, and I’m on the Matterhorn Product team here in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Matterhorn platform powers Online adjudication, Online Claim Negotiation, Online Ticket Resolution, Online Dispute Resolution in 60 courts nationwide.

Today, we’ll hear from the team at the 54B District Court in East Lansing, Michigan. I will introduce our speakers, and then give you a quick overview of the timing and webinar participant controls. Then we’ll launch into our great content. I want to thank our panelists for sharing their perspective and their time, today.

We’ll hear from Chief Judge Andrea Andrews Larkin. You may hear, on this webinar, that she received her education and law degree from Notre Dame. She began her practice in commercial litigation, and practiced in Michigan and Arizona. She was elected to her position she was elected to her position as judge in 2012. She initiated Online adjudication of certain infractions at the 54B District Court. She’s joined by Nicole Evans, Court Administrator. Do you want to say, “Hi,” Nicole? There, she’s waving. Wonderful.

Nicole

Hello. Welcome.

Dunrie

Yes, it’s great to have you. Prior to becoming the court administrator, she served in the court in several roles, including deputy court administrator, city clerk, and the chief probation officer. Judge Larkin and Nicole Evans are joined by two members of their team, Robert Stump, Senior Clerk, and Sarah Cheesebro, Senior Clerk.

Hello, Judge. Welcome.

Chief Judge Andrea Andrews Larkin, 54B District Court

Hello. Fresh from the bench.

Dunrie

Good. Thank you. I’ve given your bio. I’ve let them know your collegiate affiliation.

Judge Larkin

Go Irish. Thank you.

Dunrie

Nicole Evans and Judge Larkin are joined by two members of their team. Robert Stump, Senior Clerk, Traffic. He’s been with the court for over 18 years and has been involved with Online adjudication since the beginning in 2015. Also, Sarah Cheesebro, Senior Clerk, has been with the court for eight years, and supported the process at the court since 2016. Judge Larkin will speak with us for the first half of our session, today, and Nicole, Robert, and Sarah will elaborate on how it works for their entire team, as well as their outcomes, in the second half.

Nicole Evans and Judge Larkin are joined by two members of their team. Robert Stump, Senior Clerk, Traffic. He’s been with the court for over 18 years and has been involved with Online adjudication since the beginning in 2015. Also, Sarah Cheesebro, Senior Clerk, has been with the court for eight years, and supported the process at the court since 2016. Judge Larkin will speak with us for the first half of our session, today, and Nicole, Robert, and Sarah will elaborate on how it works for their entire team, as well as their outcomes, in the second half.

Since we have people from all around the country joining us on today’s event, not everyone will be familiar with Michigan and the location of East Lansing, so we’ll start by asking Judge Larkin to share with us a little about where the court is situated. Over to you, Judge.

Judge Larkin

Good afternoon to everyone. Good morning to those of you at a different time zone. We here in East Lansing are located in a town that is dominated by the state’s largest university. It was one of the motivating factors for beginning Online Dispute Resolution. Michigan State University, which borders the southern edge of our town has a 50,000 student enrollment, and there are only about 29,000 full-time residents in the City of East Lansing, so we see a lot of people who are comfortable with technology, all of whom are walking around at almost all times with their handheld devices, who are comfortable with computers, et cetera. This was one of the motivating reasons for us to adopt this new program.

Dunrie

Here is a little bit of statistical information to help other folks understand what the court’s work is, so if you could share this.

Judge Larkin

Sure. You probably notice, down there in the middle, our parking. We’re an old city that was developed … The university here is over 150 years old, and so a lot of the city was laid out with narrow streets and homes with no garages or a garage for a single car. Often, these houses are lived in by five or six students, each one of whom brings a car. So you’ll see that we have 35,462 parking citations that were issued last year. Many, many of those are students who are trying to park somewhere to go to class, either in the city or on the campus.

And then you can see our other civil infractions. 2,084 misdemeanors, which is down pretty significantly from seven or eight years ago. We’ve decriminalized the use of marijuana. We’ve decriminalized, the legislature has, not us as a court, decriminalized minor in possession of alcohol, so the number of criminal misdemeanors has gone down. We do still have a pretty hefty number of drunk driving charges. Those are not resolvable in any way online, other than maybe down the road, if there’s a non-payment issue, but I don’t think we allow those for non-payment.

We have more bars per mile, I’m sorry, than any other city in the state, so there are a lot of misdemeanors that involve non-fingerprintable charges such as assaultive behavior and small things like urinating in public, that type of thing, which can be resolved now online through our Online Dispute Resolution.

Dunrie

Thank you for that overview. So that we get a common definitely, I’m curious if you’re willing to share the definition of Online Dispute Resolution.

Judge Larkin

Sure. I’m the mother of three kids in their 20s, and I’m a resident of a town with 50,000 students, and 66% of our population in East Lansing is between the ages of 18 and 24. It occurred to me, shortly after receiving an email from the very early developers of Court Innovations, that people in that age range are very comfortable doing things online, not just resolving legal issues, but really almost everything in their life from banking to buying their music to paying bills to depositing checks, et cetera. I often joke that I don’t think my kids even know how to write a check.

But the digital space is a place where young people, millennials and Generation Z, are very, very comfortable, and so this Online Dispute Resolution is one option for them. They do not have to use it. If they insist on their day in court, they can have that either without choosing Online Resolution. They never have to choose Online Resolution. It’s completely voluntary. Or if they use an Online Resolution tool, and decide that they’re not satisfied with the judge’s finding, they can still ask for an informal hearing.

I don’t remember our statistics. They’re around 98% of people just conclude with the Online Dispute Resolution. This is a way for officers to remain on the road doing the core job of being a police or Parking Enforcement officer. That is enforcing the ordinances of the city. And it’s a way for, not only students who are here in East Lansing that have gotten a ticket, but also parents who have come to visit, fans of Michigan and alumni, who have just come in for a football game, who might live in California or Oregon or Florida, to contest their ticket without having to take the time to drive to a courthouse and sit in front of a judge.

Judge Ball and I like to think, and we committed when we first started this process, that we will use the exact same standards in deciding these cases. We just do it on the online space or in the online format. We like to think that we treat them the same way that we would if they were both sitting in front of us, both officer and the accused.

Dunrie

Thank you. Yeah, I think that gets at like next question, the next slide we had, too, which is why the court got started with ODR. I think you shared a lot of your thinking behind that. I don’t know if there’s anything you want to add.

Judge Larkin

We did, you know, just as a college town, so many people are here temporarily, parents moving their kids into their dorms, visiting for games, people from all over the country, who are fans of MSU, people from all over the state coming in. That’s part of the reason. The other reason, as I shared earlier, was just the age demographic in East Lansing. These young people are so comfortable. Two of my three children don’t even own television sets. They watch all of their TV on their laptop computers, so I just think we’re moving toward that all of the time. I just heard on the news the other day that one of the countries in Northern Europe has abolished cash. I think it was Norway, Sweden, or something like that.

Roberto Stump, Senior Clerk, 54B District Court

Sweden.

Judge Larkin

Yeah, so it’s all going mobile, all going electronic. I think that that was one of our motivating factors, was just seeing how comfortable young people are with that format.

Dunrie

I know we’re going to talk with Nicole and the full team a little bit about who was involved and how it came about. I don’t know if there’s any comments you want to add here.

Judge Larkin

Just that when we started, we thought it very important to have the police buy in, to have the Parking and Code Enforcement officers buy in. We have two police departments that we work with here in East Lansing, Michigan State University’s police department as well as the City of East Lansing’s police department. Nicole can get into more of the details on that, but they were both willing and enthusiastic partners. It’s a win/win/win. The defendant doesn’t have to take the time to come to the court room, the police officers can be out doing their core missions, and as a judge, we can resolve these much more quickly online than we can by calling each case up individually.

Dunrie

So I think Nicole and team will also talk about this, but I’m curious which offenses you decided to allow to be handled online.

Judge Larkin

We started out with just driving misdemeanors, traffic cases, and that worked really well. Speeding, running a stop sign, running a red light, your typical traffic tickets. After we saw how well that went, and because as you saw on that earlier slide, we have like want 7,000 civil infractions that involve driving, but 35,000 that involve parking, it didn’t take us long to decide that Parking was going to be a real benefit to add, as well, so we added the Parking unit.

After that was done, we saw how comfortable the students and young people were using Online Resolution. I can’t remember whose idea it originally was, but we decided to allow people who are somewhat fearful of coming into a courthouse when they have a warrant outstanding, and it could be a warrant for failing to pay fines and costs from a five-year-old parking ticket when they were a student and they moved to Texas for their great new job. And then they find out that there’s a warrant back in Michigan, because they failed to pay something.

So now, instead of having the fear of coming into the courthouse, the expense of coming into the courthouse, we also decided to add Online Warrant Resolution. You can see on this slide the progression. It was less than six months between just having Traffic to adding Warrant Resolution, and then about six months later, we added parking citations, and now, we have just transitioned into Online misdemeanor pleas for many of the same reasons.

There are some misdemeanors that we just simply won’t allow to be resolved online. Those where a victim is involved, that involve drunk driving, those that involve incidents that are going to be abstracted to somebody’s permanent criminal record. But for people who come in for a football game, they get drunk. They urinate in public, which is a misdemeanor here, some other 90-day misdemeanor, they go back home after having come here to visit for the game. They just want to get it over with. They know that they committed the misdemeanor. Judge Ball and I would not put someone in jail for those types of crimes.

They are entitled to plead, “Not guilty,” to hire a lawyer, to go through the pretrial process. But if they want to have it resolved online by a guilty plea and a fines-and-costs sentence, they can do that.

Judge Ball and I also, we have the discretion not to entertain an online misdemeanor plea, if we believe that, we think the person needs to be sanctioned more harshly than just fines and costs, for example, we want to supervise them on probation, we think that whatever offense they committed deserves some short jail sentence, even though it’s a 90-day misdemeanor. So both parties are able to use it as just an option. We just started that.

Dunrie

Yeah, thank you for that summary. Want to go to the next slide? Yeah, so curious what you’ve experienced in terms of … Well did you get the efficiencies that you expected when you started to bring these cases online?

Judge Larkin

I think here at 54B, we not only got the efficiencies we expected, but I think it was more time saving than we expected. The actual, in-court, informal hearings have been reduced dramatically. We had so many at one point that we even adopted, and we still have, a night court. But our night court used to meet two nights per month. Not there are many months where we just have one or zero. Our weekday, informal hearing docket has gone down considerably, because just so many people are choosing to use the Online Dispute Resolution.

It is helpful for people who have difficulties taking time off work. It’s helpful for people who are from out of town or out of state. I was telling Dunrie, a couple of days ago, judges do not have to do this, but I find it convenient to do these off hours. I can do them at 3:00 in the morning, if I’ve got a bout of insomnia. I can do them sitting in a doctor’s waiting room or an airport lounge. You can resolve these to the judge’s convenience anytime and anywhere they want. You don’t have to. My colleague only does his, chooses to do his during the actual hours that the court is open.

And then the efficiencies for the officers, I think, are also tremendous. I think the East Lansing Police Department, the East Lansing Parking and Code Enforcement people would tell you that the ability to have officers out on the roads other than standing in the hallways of the courthouse waiting for their case to be called has been an incredible advantage for them.

Dunrie

Now, we’re coming to the end of your section. I know you have the next stop in your day, but I want to go you an opportunity to provide your advice to anyone considering making this sort of process available in their court.

Judge Larkin

Well, one thing I would say is that it’s an easy process to implement, because the software and the program has been refined over at least the time that we’ve used it. I give a big shout out to Sarah and Robert, sitting here behind me. As we began with Online Dispute Resolution, there were areas where we found that we needed Court Innovations to tweak their interface. For example, we added templates. There are certain violations in the City of East Lansing that come off so frequently, it was really easy to have a template.

One for an example of that is, it’s unlawful to park here in the city between the hours of 2:00 and 6:00 a.m. And everyone, not everyone. The overwhelming majority of people who come in to dispute that ticket say, “There were no signs where I parked that say I couldn’t park there.” Well, the state has passed a statute saying that the cities who prohibit overnight parking only need to put the signs at the major entrances to the cities. So I just developed a template that said, “The signs are in compliance with the law. They are at the major entrances pursuant to state statute.” I gave that state statute. That way, when someone presented with that explanation, I could just hit the template.

Court Innovations was great about working with us to tweak all sorts of things. It gave us a space where I could ask for input from the Parking and Code Enforcement officers if I had a question. Those actually don’t go to the officers directly, but rather through Sarah. I think now that all of those initial kinks have been worked out, now that it’s been refined as much as it has, that it’s an easy thing to implement. I would always advise pulling in all the stakeholders, the local police officers and police chief, your court clerks, certainly, who are going to have to work with it, the administration. You know, depending on the demographic of your town and the docket and congestion, I think that it’s been an invaluable tool here at 54B.

Dunrie

That’s great to hear. Thank you. We do have one question, and I encourage everyone to open up that Q&A widget and drop your questions in. The first question we have is, “Where there any adjustments to statutes needed to be made to start ODR?”

Judge Larkin

No, there weren’t. One of the reasons is because we made it clear, and we have it located on our website, that this is a completely voluntary option, and that anybody who was displeased with their ODR resolution could still ask for their day in court. So this deprives nobody of any due process rights or right to confront the officer who issued the citation, and no adjustments to fines and costs. People don’t get charged more or less, for that matter, for doing this, so no changes to any applicable laws at all.

Dunrie

We have a question on how this process works. I think Nicole and team will get into that a little bit in a moment. Are there other questions from the audience? I think we often hear what types of feedback you’ve gotten from the public and we do have a little bit of that at the end of our presentation, but I’m curious for the Judge, what kind of feedback you’ve heard from partner agencies, police agencies, or from the members of the public on this topic.

Judge Larkin

I have had member of the public who have told me, even friends who have had parking tickets in East Lansing, have told me they resolved them online. I have not gotten any negative feedback about it. I think in the year since we’ve been doing the Online Dispute Resolution, I have only had … It’s less than a handful, less than five, certainly … people come into court for an informal hearing that said, “I tried to resolve this online. You ruled against me. This is what I want you to know.” Generally, it’s the same thing they told me online. I don’t think it’s changed very often, but they still were not dissatisfied with the process. They were dissatisfied with the fact that I ruled against them and wanted their day in court and they got it. I have heard, personally, no negative feedback about Online Dispute Resolution.

Dunrie

And it looks like you’ve got your whole team there, or many members of your team there in the room, and they’re here, willing to share their story, so hopefully, they have positive things to say.

Judge Larkin

They’re all ready for you.

Dunrie

Well, I know you have to get back to the bench. We really appreciate you taking time. You’re of course welcome to stay as long as you can.

Judge Larkin

I appreciate that, but I am actually headed back into the courtroom for informal hearings, 10 of them. I’d probably have 50 if it weren’t for Court Innovations. I’m heading in to do 10 of them, starting right now. Thanks to everyone. Thanks Dunrie for all your hard work. I’m going to have somebody move up to this chair so it doesn’t look so empty in here.

Dunrie

Thank you so much, Judge Larkin. We really appreciate your perspective.

Judge Larkin

You’re welcome.

Nicole Evans

Thank you, Judge.

Dunrie

We’ll let the team shift around a little bit. At this point, our court administrator, Nicole Evans is going to lead us through talking about the high-level process to answer Kim’s question of “How exactly does this work?” She’s flanked by members of her team, Robert and Sarah.

Nicole Evans

Oh, but you can’t see us.

Dunrie

Yeah, Sarah’s completely hiding off screen.

Nicole

Yeah, no, nope, no. I’ll back up.

Dunrie

No, perfect. That’s helpful. Yeah, now we can see everybody. Nicole, yeah, thank you so much. Now it gets to the meat of it. How does this actually work? We’ll start here with the first screen of the court’s website.

Nicole

Okay. So are you asking me the actual workflow process, because we can go through that pretty easily, especially with Bob and Sarah here. In fact, I can have them go through their processes individually, so that participants can understand how we handle these violations using an online platform but in a different aspect, in a different way.

Dunrie

Yeah. I think we were thinking we’d start with the public flow, first, and then there’s a slide with the workflow, and let’s bring Bob and Sarah in at that point.

Nicole

Oh, okay. Okay, all right. The slide that you’re looking at is actually a snapshot of our actual website. I’m going to give my shout out to Sarah for coming up with the idea to have it mimic a smart phone. This is because the majority of our demographic, as the Judge has said, the population is majority students. We are a college town, and so we recognize that not just students, but pretty much everyone now has a cell phone tethered to them. They do quite a bit of their business on the cell phone, so why not have our website mimic something that they’re very familiar with in their day-to-day interactions with the technology?

So from the public perspective, when they come onto our website, they are looking, that third button to the right says, “Resolve Tickets & Warrants Online.” Once you click on that button, you’ll see another screen that actually shows all of the options available for our online platform. Is this what you wanted? Sorry. Did I skip any of that?

Dunrie

No, I think it was my fault. I think you knew exactly where you were going.

Nicole

Okay. Okay, yup. So these are the options that are available for our online platforms. You see the Online Misdemeanor. You’ll see Traffic & Civil Infractions, which is what Bob primarily handles. The Warrant, which is handled … Our Misdemeanor Division and then Parking, which is handled primarily by Sarah. When the public first enters into the module, they select the platform that they’re looking for based on the type of citation that they received.

So going through, I’ll start with Traffic. Once they get into Traffic, they’re entering their name and their driver’s license number, I believe. And that does-

Robert

Date of birth.

Nicole

And date of birth. Okay, and that pulls up any citations that are eligible in our Case Management System. So the online platform, or in this case, we work with the Matterhorn platform, it pulls the information from what is called the Judicial Data Warehouse, so it’s not tying directly into our Case Management System. The online platform does not talk directly to our system, and so there’s an intermediary where that information is picked up. The participant or the user looks and finds the result, or they are able to obtain the result. They can select, if they have more than one citation, which one they want to have resolved.

There is a list of, I guess, affirmation statements now that we require, that they understand that they are going through an online process and that the information that they’re giving is true. I can actually see the working there, but as Judge Larkin has said before, at no time do they lose their ability to appear in court if they decide that they don’t want to go through this process, or if they complete the process and they don’t like the decision. They never lose that ability, but it does give them another option to resolve their matter in a much shorter period of time.

Dunrie

So this is where you were going. I’m sorry. I just took you off it first. Would you like to talk about what happens once the citizen submits their request?

Nicole

Okay. I’m actually going to have Bob, because this is with Traffic & Parking. He can speak more intelligently regarding that. What actually happens an eligible case enters into the queue that is set up by the online platform. Bob.

Robert

Every morning, when I come in, I sign on, and I’ll look at our site and our queue, because there’s one for Warrants, one for Criminal, one for Traffic, and there’s one for Parking. I’ll look at the Traffic one. It will list if there’s any outstanding requests in there. I will pull it up, open it up, and then I will go to our Case Management System, update our case, because I put our case on hold, because I’m not sure how long it will take from start to end, and I don’t want any notices generating on our side. So I put our case on hold, updating it that online review has been submitted. I’ll go back to Court Innovations. I will update that, and I’ll submit it to the officer.

Once it’s submitted to the officer, I can view, from step to step, how long it’s taking or where it’s at in this process, and so can the defendant. And then I will throughout the day, maybe four or five times, I’ll go online and see if there’s anymore that have came in throughout the day so I can update them and submit the same process. Once it goes from the officer, if he agrees to it or denies it or makes his motion to deny it, it will go to the judge’s queue. Then we’ll wait for the judge to make their recommendation. Once the judge makes their recommendation, it will go to the defendant saying, “Are you sure? You still agree to these requirements that will be amended to what we amend to impeding traffic?” If the defendant agrees, they will send their text back, and it will come back to our queue saying, “Accepted.”

Once I see it’s accepted, I’ll update our case to impeding traffic and give them two days to pay, because that’s what our recommendation is. Then I will send email and text back to the defendant, “You’ve been approved. You need to pay this within 48 hours,” and they can do that all online, because it gives our website. If they don’t pay within 48 hours, or if it should come to the 48-hour point, Court Innovations will send another reminder to them, “You must pay, or else the original charge will be reinstated.” It’s really nice, because they keep track of the time frame. I don’t have to do anything regarding that. I would say 99% of the defendants pay it on time.

Nicole

One thing I would like to add to Robert’s summation is that for our Traffic module, it’s the police department that decides what offenses become eligible. It also determines what plea they will offer, so we have a standard offer of impeding traffic, which Robert referenced, so there really is no guess work on behalf of the police or for the judges for that matter. If the police department or the liaison finds that the person’s request is eligible, then the offer is automatically impeding traffic. That’s also one of the statements that’s made at the beginning of the process, that if your explanation is accepted, then the offer is impeding traffic, and this is the amount.

So before they even go much farther into the process, they already know ahead of time, what the plea agreement would be if accepted and the amount that’s owed, and that it’s expected to be paid within 48 hours. They have that information up front. So again, at that time, the entire process is totally voluntary, so they can decide at that time whether or not they want to continue or if they want to have their day in court, and request an in-person, informal hearing.

Dunrie

No, that’s helpful context. We have one question, if I can interrupt you to ask it. Or we have a couple of questions. One, do you have a sense of proportion of defendants that are using ODR to resolve their eligible tickets that could be resolved online? How many of them are coming online to resolve their ticket?

Nicole

Gosh, well-

Dunrie

And if you don’t have that answer, we can give that answer afterwards via email to the questioner.

Nicole

Okay. Ooh, it sounds like a teaser. Okay, well we can give it to you after. I’ll just quantify it by saying, “Many.”

Dunrie

Okay. All right.

Nicole

Because that online platform is very popular, and not just with our court, but given the demographic, we can see why it would be used so often, because we have the university population, but we also have adults, you know, with real jobs and responsibilities that need to continue with their day and are grateful to have the opportunity to not have to interrupt their day, not take time off work to be able to address their matter and have it resolved in a short period of time.

Dunrie

We have another question about the number of people that were on the project team at the court to … maybe this question is to launch, and then maybe there’s a second question with how many staff members are supporting it now.

Nicole

Okay. Well, let’s see. Numbers, I have to count on my fingers how many. I was part of the initial administrative team when this was implemented back in 2015, along with my predecessor. We also had representation from the police department, and I believe it was the police chief, the deputy chief, and a lieutenant, so I believe we had three.

Robert

Mm-hmm (affirmative). There was three of them and then us.

Nicole

Three at the time. We started with Traffic, and so it would have been the three police officers. Obviously the chief, because they’re making the ultimate decision, and the deputy chief is there for support, and the lieutenant, I believe. We were looking at a process that involved a liaison as opposed to having every officer respond or make a recommendation to their own ticket. The point is to keep officers on the road, and not to have them sitting in the office, and having to respond to a request for review. I would say that’s what? Two, five, that’s five.

Robert

Both judges.

Nicole

Both judges.

Robert

Yes, they were.

Nicole

Five, seven. So we had both judges.

Robert

Myself.

Nicole

And Bob.

Dunrie

Yeah.

Nicole

That’s about to eight? That’s it. Yeah, so it’s probably about eight.

Robert

Yeah, it probably was. Yeah.

Nicole

Yeah. Okay, so it was eight people. You know, a pretty big team, but we were making a big decision, and we all needed to be at the table at the same time to address … Oh, the vendor.

Robert

Oh, yes.

Nicole

The provider of the platform were there. The provider of the platform. They did a demonstration. I think they did a demonstration for us prior to us meeting with the police department, as well as a demonstration to the overall group, and able to address any concerns, especially logistics. You know, police had a valid concern as far as time commitment, so that would be 10 including the vendor, I’m saying.

Dunrie

Okay. Thank you, Nicole. And one more, if I can keep interrupting you.

Nicole

Sure.

Dunrie

This may be for Bob, or it may be for you. I’ll let you guys decide. What happens if the motorist does not pay within 48 hours? Is the reduced plea still given to the motorist?

Robert

No. I will receive notification back from Court Innovations, “They have not paid.” I will reinstate the original charge. I’ll send a text back to them, which short template, basically, that the original charge has been reinstated. You must pay, or you contact the court, I believe, and you can challenge the charge in court.

Dunrie

Okay. Thank you. We have a couple-

Nicole

So although we-

Dunrie

Go ahead.

Nicole

I’m sorry. So although that plea agreement is offered, it is for a specific period of time, and the nice thing is that through using the online platform, it tracks this for us, and through every step of this process, the user is receiving an update. So each time it moves through the queue, after Bob updates the case on our Case Management System, when it goes to the police, that user is getting an update saying that “Mode 2, police review.” So they know exactly where their citation is in the process. There is no wondering what’s happening with the ticket, because they are constantly notified throughout the process.

That’s very nice, because being on this end of it, we don’t have that time. We don’t have time to notify a defendant or a recipient of a citation, where they are in the process. That’s with pretty much any case. You wait for your notice to appear, and that’s how you know. But with this online platform, because they’re using an electronic process, they’re using email, they’re using their cell phone number, they’re constantly updated. So having that information just takes away a lot of the mystery of not knowing what’s going on.

Dunrie

Thank you. I’m wondering if we missed Sarah, our opportunity to hear from…

Nicole

Yeah. Sarah’s opportunity to talk about Parking. Yes, because that is a different process. Can we move back to the previous slide that shows the workflow, because then she can point out what’s different with her process in comparison to Parking. Now Sarah, I’m going to move to the right so that all of you …

Dunrie

Welcome all of Sarah.

Sarah Cheesebro, Senior Clerk, 54B District Court

Thank you. Parking is essentially the same as Traffic. The only difference is we don’t involve the officer, unless the judge specifically has a question to ask of the Parking and Code Enforcement, and then at that point, we contact them, and then just put a comment in for the judge and Court Innovations to allow them to see what the response was. But same thing. The ticket’s reduced or even if they’re found responsible, we give them 48 hours to pay. Otherwise, it will just continue as normal process.

Nicole

So with the Parking process, the difference between Parking and Traffic is that the Parking Enforcement is not involved as having a direct review. They are solicited … Well, maybe solicited is not the right word, but assistance is requested if there is follow-up questions from our judges, and that comes through Sarah. So because this doesn’t mimic an informal hearing, these are treated as what we call admissions with explanation. So the person, the recipient or the user goes in knowing that they’re basically admitting to the ticket, but they’re offering an explanation, in the hopes of having their fines and costs reduced. It’s the same outcome or they have the same option if they don’t care for the judge’s decision. They, too, can request a hearing, a hearing in court, so no due process lost there. They can have their day in court, and the only difference is that it’s not an officer reviewing before making that final recommendation.

Dunrie

And we do have one more question, which it may be answered by the people in the room. I don’t know. How many staff in your court are monitoring the system?

Nicole

All of our senior clerks, so the three of you?

Robert

Well, I could speak for Traffic. I just monitor it, and if I’m not there, the others will, but I just do it myself.

Sarah

I usually handle Warrants and Parking.

Nicole

So we have five senior clerks, five senior-level supervisors in our division, and any one of them can monitor the system, but primarily, we have Robert on Traffic, Sarah on Parking, and then we also have another senior clerk that monitors … Well, now she’s handling the Online Misdemeanor Pleas. Because Sarah is also handling the Parking Division, as of recently. And this is just a side. It doesn’t really impact what our observers are doing here.

We merged our divisions, and so our Parking and our Misdemeanor in our county division are merged. So some of the responsibility fell to Sarah to pick up some of those duties. Again, I hope I answered the question. It’s five senior-level supervisors, but we have three primarily monitoring the process, and so they cover each other whenever they’re off, and so it’s never an issue of a delay because someone had the day off, called in, or on vacation.

Sarah

Yup. Yeah, and that’s actually starting to get … If we want to turn to the Outcomes, starting to get to some of the speed and information that you guys are able to provide. I know we’ve got a little bit time left, and I want to make sure we can sing your praises for all that you’ve accomplished, so we’ll typically-

Nicole

Well, we’ll let you.

Sarah

Yeah, so one of the common things that online systems are credited with providing is access. I know the Judge has already spoken about how she accesses the system outside of business hours, and I think we see the same thing for the public. I don’t know. Nicole, would you like me to present these, or are you happy to do this? To do these ones?

Nicole

Another thing Judge Larkin alluded to, that the majority of our population fall within that 18-24 range. You can see just from the slide, I guess, 18-34 is the highest number within the demographic. That’s just telling us the times, that technology is just very prevalent in our world, today, and so the courts are almost forced to go through a reimaging, rebranding of the services that they offer. It’s no longer the cold, stone building, the powdered wig, the robe, or anything like that. We’re moving. It’s a different era now. We have to move with it in order to …

Because the courts are charged with due process, with providing the impartial venue for a dispute, access to justice is very important, and how we do that is with the use of technology. There really is no getting around it, so providing an online platform where it may appear to be more work, that’s going to be on the front end. It’s going to be in the initial meetings. It’s going to be addressing the initial concerns of the stakeholders, but once it’s implemented, it just runs.

It literally runs itself. It does not take us any extra time to do what we do. Bob and Sarah, they can say whether or not, because they’re handling it day to day. Most of my involvement was on the front end, and so I bore that to make this process come into fruition, but you know, I didn’t do that alone. Obviously, I needed the judges’ approval, and we needed the buy in from our police departments. For the police department, this is an area where I would advise anyone who’s considering the online platform, time commitment is going to be the question for them. It’s going to be the time commitment, because their feeling is that they don’t want to have to be stuck to a desk to respond to the number of requests that comes in. The number of requests will increase.

We did a study maybe about a year or so ago where we compared the number of in-person, informal hearings to the number of online hearings, and they’re almost about even. I think, Dunrie, that you said there’s a slide or something that might speak to that? The reason I believe that has happened is because it’s now more accessible. It’s more accessible, and you’re not limited by business hours to have to address your matter. It doesn’t matter where you are.

I believe when I saw the registration list, that most of you are on the west side of the state, so it’s three hours earlier. You just heard that my judge, she will do this at 3:00 in the morning, so you know, you’re getting responses at all times of the morning, just because it’s available to you. That’s a great thing. That’s what you want. You don’t want to be sitting on tickets, or you don’t want to be sitting on cases, and having to issue notices or issuing warrants, just because someone doesn’t have the time or can’t make the time to appear, because of their job, because of childcare, whatever the situation may be. It’s that 24-hour access is very important, and it was a major reason why we went through with it, why we wanted this.

Dunrie

Yeah. On this particular slide, you can see, to illustrate Nicole’s point. This is not the judge, when the judge is accessing it. This is when members of the public are accessing it, and 60% of people are doing during the course of business hours, but they’re not doing it at the court, when they’re using ODR, of course. And 40% are doing it on evenings and weekends, so it gives them that location flexibility as well as that around-the-clock access. And the court can choose to only answer back during business hours unless you’re Judge Larkin.

Nicole

Right. I think that the 60% of the users during business hours is very telling, because for me, that 60% represents people who are probably working during those business hours or have childcare issues. I think that right there, that in itself just confirms why this process is so beneficial to the users and to the court.

Dunrie

We’ve got a couple more slides on outcomes. This one I think is really important. It’s from the follow-up surveys. Nicole, I don’t know if you want to make a comment on this or anyone on your team.

Nicole

It’s interesting to see this 46% who’s not able to appear in court compared to the 60% that’s doing this on business hour. That just tells you that someone just took the option, and they can. People are choosing to go online, because it is available. To know that there’s 46% that are saying that they could not … Again, this is just a confirmation for why an online platform should be seriously considered.

Dunrie

Go to the next one. Yeah, we talked a little bit about efficiencies. Keep going. This is how quickly Bob and Sarah and the judges are moving these cases through. Time from the initial citizen request to decision by the court. Varies a little by offense type, Traffic, Parking, and Warrant, but you guys are pretty fast.

Nicole

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, we’re fast as far as pushing a case out to the next step, whether it’s to the police officer or the judges, but you know, we’re all partners in this, and so if those cases are moving fast, that’s because our police departments are just moving as fast and our judges want to get those decisions out. It really is, with an online platform, there really isn’t a good reason to have wait a long time.

Dunrie

Yeah.

Nicole

And speaking to the efficiency, for an informal hearing, just to give you some perspective of what this has done for us, we schedule hearings once a month, and those hearings are four to six weeks out. With an online platform, you can have your matter resolved from start to finish, pretty much within a week. Within a week. That includes the 48 hours when the payment is required. With an in person, you’re waiting six weeks just for the date, just to get the date, before you find out what the decision.

At that time, if you disagree with the judge’s decision, you have to go through an appeal, whereas it’s worth the effort to go through an online process, first. You know, I mean, take your chances, if you may, and hope for the better, but if it doesn’t work out, you still can decide to take the time to request a hearing and come in six weeks later to find out that you might get the same decision, but it’s your option.

Dunrie

Yeah, the right side of this slide shows that the public agrees that they feel that their case was resolved in a timely manner. 90% of them say that four days is shorter than six weeks.

Nicole

Yes.

Dunrie

I know we just have a couple moments left and I want to just speed through the customer satisfaction. People say they understood the status of their case, and they would recommend using the system. This has some lovely feedback, but I’m going to keep going so we can make sure we ask … Keep going. One more … questions for this team. I’m going to pull the … Oh, no. We just have five minutes left, so please drop your questions into the Q&A. We do have one question from Julie Stelzer. I believe the Judge may have addressed this, but let’s underline this, because this is a frequently asked question. “Where does the cost of this program go to, the court or the defendants?”

Nicole

You know, I was anticipating this question. It’s very valid, because the Judge said, “There is no cost to the user,” so what I would say … The cost is absorbed by the court. We’ll start there. And how we justify that cost was by taking the number of … Actually, we could start by taking the cost of the event that’s going to become your plea. Just for the purpose of making round numbers and making the math simple, let’s just say we had a $200 ticket, and so that’s going to be the plea agreement. So someone who has a speeding ticket, they start the process. They understand that the plea offer is going to be for impeding traffic, which will cost $200 dollars. You take that and divide that against the cost of the program, and we’ll just say … Again, I’ll just use a round number. We’ll just use $1,000, and then you divide that cost by your $200 ticket. It’s going to take you about five tickets to pay for the cost of that program. So the benefit definitely outweighs the cost, because we’ve resolved … How many cases, Dunrie?

Dunrie

You guys are right about 5,000.

Nicole

Okay, so you know, again, definitely the benefit outweighs the cost, but it was absorbed by the court. We didn’t charge anything against the police department. The police departments did not have to fund … If you choose to do so, that’s something that obviously you are free to negotiate with your departments if you believe that the benefit for those police departments is something that they should pay for, but it wasn’t anything that we needed to do, because it paid for itself, not only with the tickets or with the cost of the program. It paid for itself with our time…the use of the staff, the police officers benefited, and also for our judges. The judges can now have more time to handle the more complex matters, so that’s something that doesn’t always result in a tangible cost, but the value is, you know, beyond measure.

Dunrie

We have one more question. We have a couple more. We commit to answering all of them on email afterwards. We have one about how you promoted this availability of ODR to your community and to your citizens. How do you let people know that this option exists that they can take advantage of?

Nicole

Okay. We had … I wish I had it with me. I wish I had thought about that. We issued a press release. Press release. It was on our website. We made signs. We had … what was it? No time for the line? No time for the line. I might trademark that, because I came up with it. No time for the line, and so we had a picture of a guy running, like he was in a rush, someone who was in a rush, and our caption was, “No time for the line. Try Online Resolution.” We had the website address. Those were posted all around our building.

We share a building. The court shares a building with City Hall, and so those were posted at every entry way. It was on our website, and we also had a press release. Wherever we had that sign, we had the same symbol on our website at the time, so that people knew exactly where to go to when they hit our website. Sarah’s idea of the smart phone, that came later, but we had this cute rushing, not Russian, but we had this cute who was rushing, and there was the “No time for the line,” caption. That’s how we promoted. It didn’t take very long for it to catch on.

Dunrie

Do you do outreach?

Nicole

Right, like on the phone, and so during our phone calls, so our phone interactions with customers, we would promote it that way as well as at the counter. So if someone wanted to request an informal hearing, we would give them the option to get a result online.

Dunrie

Does law enforcement spread the word. I know sometimes they’ll do like a little business card or …

Nicole

Yes. Yes, and we also have our website that’s actually printed on the citations, so they can easily go to our website just based on information on the citation. But yes, our officers were also notifying people that it could be resolved online, or to check, because not every case is eligible, so that was also very important. It was the police department that determines … It’s their tickets, and so they were the ones to determine what type of cases they wanted to see. The citations that were eligible, primarily, what is it Robert?

Robert

Oh, all moving violations three points or less and no accident.

Nicole

Okay.

Dunrie

No accident.

Nicole

Here in Michigan, we use a point system, so it was moving violations, three points or less, and nothing with an accident. We didn’t want anything that could have property damage or a victim involved, and have it resolved online without the police officer or the other party having an opportunity to weigh in.

Dunrie

So we’re going to have to end it there.

Nicole

Oh, wow.

Dunrie

Thank you. I know. It’s been a very fast hour. Thank you, Nicole. Thank you, Robert. Thank you, Sarah, and a big thanks to Judge Larkin, as well. It’s been really fun to do this with you, to have this conversation, to have you answer the questions of our attendees. We commit … Nicole has made her contact information available. You can certainly always ask us any questions you have. Any questions that were asked and unanswered during the time, we’ll get back to you on email.

Thank you, again. We look forward to connecting to you again on another webinar. Do you want to say good-bye?

Nicole

Good-bye, everyone. I hope the information that we provided was beneficial. My email address is available. Feel free to reach out to us. We are more than willing. Happy to help you.

Dunrie

Wonderful. Bye, Robert. Bye, Sarah.

Sarah

Bye.

Nicole

Bye, everyone.

Dunrie

Thank you.

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