Listen to the interview and read the transcript for Online Courts Questions and Answers with Matterhorn #1. Lisa Fusik of Michigan 14A District Court Discusses the court’s online platform for Traffic, Plea, Warrant, and Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) resolution.
Quick Overview 14A District Court Online Access
- Site: courtinnovations.com/MID14A
- Launched: 2014
- Cases Handled Online as of early April, 2020: 5,000+
- Case Types Handled Online
- Traffic Infractions
- Online Plea,
- Warrant Resolution
- Driving While License Suspended (DWLS)
- Customer Survey Results: Over 90% said they
- found the website easy to use,
- felt their case was resolved in a timely manner,
- understood the status of their case throughout the process
- would recommend the site to someone else.
Listen to Online Courts Q&A Audio
Online Courts Q&A Quick Reference
- Tell us about the Online Platform Launch
- How does it work, exactly?
- Would you explain the Traffic citation review process?
- What eligibility criteria are in place for traffic citations?
- Is there a time limit for each step?
- How does the online Warrant review work?
- How does the DWLS (driving while license suspended) process work online?
- How does the Online Plea process work?
- Which warrants are eligible for online review?
- What are the eligibility criteria for online plea?
- Does it work for multiple cases at once?
- What’s the effort to maintain and monitor the online platform?
- Who pays? What’s the value?
Online Courts Q&A Transcript
Dunrie Greiling, Matterhorn
Hello and Welcome to Online Courts Questions and Answers with Matterhorn #1.
Matterhorn offers online adjudication and online dispute resolution software platforms to courts, agencies, and mediation centers. We have been working with courts and government agencies since 2014.
My name is Dunrie Greiling and I am part of the Matterhorn team.
This is the first in a series of interviews with courts experienced in offering access to the public online. We recorded this interview with Lisa Fusik, Court Administrator from Michigan 14A District Court on Friday, April 3, 2020.
All right. Well, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.
I’m so proud to have Lisa Fusik on today. She’s here to answer some questions that have been asked of courts with Matterhorn through all of the different webinars that we’ve had over the time we’ve been doing webinars I guess it’s been about, over a year and a half now.
I want to introduce our guest more formally. She is Lisa Fusik. She is the Court Administrator for 14A District Court here in Michigan. She began working for the 14A District Court as Deputy District Court Clerk in 2008, and was appointed Deputy Court Administrator in 2011. She was named Manager of the Year for Washtenaw County in 2018, and became the 14A District Court Court Administrator in the year 2019.
Lisa possesses a bachelor’s degree from Madonna University; a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Concordia University; and a master’s degree in judicial administration from Michigan State University.
She’s a Certified Court Manager. That certification is through the National Center for State Courts.
She has been a leader in the area of ODR since 2014, when 14A District Court partnered with Matterhorn for the first-of-its-kind online traffic review program.
Thank you so much, Lisa, for taking the time, making time in your schedule to answer some of these questions with us.
Lisa Fusik, Court Administrator, 14A District Court, Michigan
Absolutely. Glad to be here.
I know court systems across the nation, organize themselves very differently. 14A is a district court. I’m wondering if you could explain; and I didn’t give you any prep for this, so we can loop back, if you want to think about it. What the jurisdiction of 14A District Court is, and what types of cases you would see in person and online.
But, the district court … Excuse me … in Michigan, we handle any criminal case where the penalty is less than one year in jail. If it’s a case where it requires prison time, we hear the first hearing on those, what are called probable cause conference; the arraignment in the prelim exam. Then we bind those over to circuit court for the actual sentencing and pretrial hearings on those cases.
With the district court, we handle misdemeanors where the penalty is less than a year in jail. Anything from a no operator’s license on person, all the way through a domestic violence or operating while intoxicated second offense. Child abuse; those would happen at district court.
But anything above that would be a circuit court case. That’s a little different structure, depending on what state you’re in. But that’s how we handle them here in Michigan.
We also handle all civil infractions. Even if it’s a juvenile, that still takes place at the district court if it’s a driving offense. We do civil cases up to $20,000 or less, including small claims.
When did you commence ODR? And what problems did you encounter?
Great. We’ve gathered these questions over time, as people have asked them on webinars. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to just share a little overview of how the online program has worked for the courts since it was implemented in 2014. Maybe we’ll start with this.
When did you commence ODR? And what teething problems did you encounter? I skipped ahead to the launch questions, actually. Those make more sense.
No problem. We were approached as part of a program through University of Michigan to pilot a online review of court cases to see if there were some things that were being done in a courtroom that could be done virtually.
Initially, we were very skeptical that this was something that you could do back in 2014. But, after we started talking and working through some stuff, we decided that we had already done an in-person online traffic review. And that would be something that could be done online.
Essentially, back in 2014, we helped develop the platform. We got one of our local police agencies to come on board to pilot it with us. And through a couple different versions, I mean, we tweaked it quite a bit to get to the point where we are now. We have not only an online traffic platform that’s been going strong since 2014, but we’ve added online warrant review, online driving while license suspended platform, and an online plea.
Dunrie, you and I started the online plea as kind of a just back and forth to say, “Hey, I think this might be something that would make sense to take online as opposed to having something back and forth.”
Really, once you start with Matterhorn or any type of ODR, I think you start to wonder what is it that we can do; what more can we do. Because of the results of the initial pilot, it opens your eyes to what is available for others.
We’ve been very fortunate to be able to develop some of these programs. Last time I looked, we’re almost at 5,000 cases handled online through our platform. So it’s been an amazing evolution. I’m really proud to say that we were in it at the beginning.
Yeah, it’s had some growth spurts and some growing pains as far as some of the platforms have gone. But being able to tweak it and figure out what works best for us and for our constituents has been challenging, but very rewarding.
It’s super. Yeah, we’re really proud to have been working with you since the very beginning.
And it’s exciting to see all that you guys have achieved. You mentioned that you started with traffic, then of course added on a couple of additional case types. Would you mind talking about that first launch; how many people were on the project team? Was it a big commitment on the side of the court?
What did it take to launch the platform? How big was your team?
As far as our court, I know each court is a little bit different. It was myself and my court administrator at the time, Bob Ciolek. Then we partnered with one of the law enforcement agencies Pittsfield Township. And their court officer as well as their chief.
Aside from that, Matterhorn had their own team involved, which I want to say was three or four people at the time. Could have been a little bit more behind the scenes. But it was a relatively small group when you think; under 10 people that really started this program. And it’s grown exponentially since then.
But we have, I think, seven or eight law enforcement agencies now that are on board as well as with some of the other platforms you’ve got prosecutors involved. So it’s morphed into this where you have a lot of law enforcement and prosecutor involvement.
How does the traffic citation review process work?
Can you explain a bit about the process once somebody uses the site?
How does the court staff stay involved, and who’s involved? And maybe, if you want to take it by … describe maybe the traffic case type first, then if there are variations for the other case types.
Sure. The online traffic review, we intentionally made it a smaller scope. I know some other courts have anyone that wants to submit a request can do so. One of the things that sold us on it, also law enforcement, was the fact that we were able to put some criteria behind it.
If somebody gets a traffic ticket on the side of the road, they can go on to our website, which takes them to the Matterhorn website. And it says, “Please enter your drivers license number, your date of birth, and your name.” Then the system continually pings our case management system until it finds the ticket.
Once the ticket is found, then the defendant can put in a request. So they’re going to explain in their request anything that they want the magistrate or the police agency to consider when looking at their request. If they were in a hurry, or they were on their way to a doctor’s appointment.
Anything that they could do, even at an informal hearing in front of the judicial officer, they can do this online. Once that request is submitted, our office from the clerk’s side goes in and extends their due date out for 30 days to allow time for that process in the system without defaulting the ticket.
Once we put that due date in, it goes to the police agency. They can either have several people designated to look at these requests, or they might have one court officer. They can set up however many they want.
If they want individual officers to look at their individual tickets, they’re able to do that. But we found that it works really well to just to have the court officer be the one responding.
Police agency gets to look at the ticket, they get to get feedback from their officers; maybe something else happened that wasn’t on the ticket that they want to express. They can write messages to the magistrate that the defendant can see; or if they choose to have something for the magistrate to review that they don’t want the defendant to see, they can choose that as well.
They make a recommendation to the magistrate. The magistrate gets that, and both the police agency and the magistrate have access to view their driving record, as well as their court record; because the driving record doesn’t necessarily reflect if they’ve had other reductions in the past.
So the nice thing about this program is they’re able to see how many times has this person gotten a break, and decide whether or not they’re eligible for another one? Once that’s determined, the magistrate will make her decision as to whether or not to allow for the reduction.
For us, we designated right from the get-go that it was going to be double parking. When they put in their request in the system, they know right from the start that it will be $180, and would be a double parking ticket. If it is approved, so they know that, what they’re getting right from the get-go. They also agree that if it is approved, that they will pay within 48 hours.
Once the magistrate makes her decision, sends it back to the defendant, and then the … I’m sorry, the clerk’s office actually updates our case management system. We come back into the system and let it know that we’re all set, that it’s been updated.
Then a message goes to the defendant to let them know that their case has been approved and they have 48 hours to pay their fine and close out their ticket.
Potentially, with this platform, we can finish a case in under a week, where previously we would have had to schedule it sometimes a month or two out, then have all the parties; the officer, the defendant, and the magistrate; in person, having to do the same thing that we’re doing online. It’s been an amazing savings; so convenient for all parties. And it’s just changed how we handle these types of hearings.
What eligibility criteria are in place for traffic tickets?
Yeah, no, that is a remarkable difference in schedule, to be able to get it through the process so quickly and efficiently.
One question that I have, you mentioned that you have eligibility criteria at the beginning to determine which types of tickets should be reviewed in this way. Would you mind sharing a little bit about what criteria are in place?
Or what types of tickets; accidents, no accidents, speeding?
Right. Because most accidents involve a victim, we do not allow any accident to come to the system. We also don’t allow any charges that would affect safety in nature. Like construction zone speeding, a school bus violation. Those on the outset, once somebody submits their request, the system recognizes that those are ones that we do not allow.
They will let the defendant know right from the start that this is not something that’s eligible, and that they need to contact the court to either set a hearing or pay their ticket. That’s super helpful because it gets rid of those charges, cases we wouldn’t accept anyway. And doesn’t waste anybody’s time. So we don’t even see those; those are automatically rejected.
We also had a criteria from the start that said if you have five or more tickets in the last three years, that those ones would be eliminated as well right from the start. Those were criteria that we had discussed with law enforcement.
The nice thing about Matterhorn has been that if a law enforcement agency wanted something different; they wanted their criteria to be three tickets in the last three years; we could modify that specific to the department; so that’s helpful.
Yeah, Michigan State Police actually modified the system where they get to preview the tickets essentially before it even gets to the clerk’s office. That was something that they wanted on their end; was to say, there are certain ones that they didn’t feel people should be even given the chance to go through the system. So they’re able to reject those before they even get to us. And they’re doing that based on what they’re checking on their tickets.
Yeah. No, that’s cool that we can filter those out so that people know immediately. And you guys don’t have to process those, because those won’t be successful in the system.
Yeah. I think you mentioned how quickly it goes. I guess one question that we’ve often had is if there’s a time limit for each step.
Is there a time limit for each step?
For us, one growing pain I would say that we’ve had since 2014 is something that we’ve been continuing to work with. I know Matterhorn has as well, is our case management system.
Because we have to build in that front-end part where the clerk actually has to put that due date out further so it doesn’t default. Instead of giving someone the 10 days that we normally would, we say, “In order to participate in the system, you need to do it in the first eight days, so that we have time for the clerks to get in there and make that adjustment.”
If the case management system were to automate that process; which is something that we’ve been really pushing for; then we wouldn’t have to build in that extra two days.
That’s really our only time constraint, is that front end to say they need to make their request within the first eight days so that their ticket doesn’t default before it has a chance to get in to the system.
As far as everything else, we give it 30 days to work its way through. It never takes that long. I have been doing a lot more of this since we’ve been closed with the COVID-19 issue.
So I’m actually being the clerk, and putting things out. Yeah. I’m checking daily our system, and I’m putting those people’s dates out. Then it’s working its way through the process. I will say I just did some on Wednesday, and they were already approved today.
So within two days, we’ve got it worked through and it’s already back to the defendants to take care of it.
Just like I said, we were having some of our informal hearings out two months, just to accommodate for officers’ schedules, or those types of things. So to go from a two-month timeline on a ticket to a two-day timeline, it’s just remarkable.
I think the other thing that was always surprising to me; I know that you have the actual data for it; but default. The default rate in the system is less than 1%, which is totally amazing. And to add in to that, since utilizing this system, our default rate has gone down even on cases that aren’t involved in Matterhorn.
I think that’s a tribute to how the system works and the ability for these things to happen in a quick fashion. Everybody wants to have their day in court, but they want to have it as quickly as possible. The whole concept of justice delayed is justice denied, to be able to do these things in such a fashion that we’re handling them so swiftly; as a court administrator, it’s an amazing thing.
Well, it’s a testament to your team and your flexibility, too, to be able to work in all the modalities. Maybe all at once.
Can you describe the traffic process? I’m curious if how either the warrant or the driving while license suspended platforms, if there are any differences that we should want to cover; or people might not know about.
Warrant review process
Sure. Our warrant review, we handle it all a little different, and that’s another thing. Courts handle their dockets differently, and these systems allow for that to happen.
We treat our warrant review much like our walk-in on a warrant. That has been tremendous during this court closure, because you have people calling constantly, saying, or that are used to, being able to walk in on their warrant and take care of it. Now, we’re referring them online.
And I will tell you, just by answering phone calls and getting back with people, our requests have more than doubled on a daily basis because of the closure. So people are able to resolve their warrant online, and not have to worry about having a warrant through this crisis.
So, what happens for that is again, they would provide their information; drivers license number, date of birth. If they know their court case number, they would provide that. Even if they don’t, if they for instance aren’t sure they’re not getting a match with our system, it will flag for us that we need to do a little bit more research.
I just had that happen this week for somebody submitted a request. Either it was spelled differently in our system, or we have four court locations; so maybe they made the request in the wrong one. We’re able to find their case and match it up for them so that the magistrate can review it.
Then what the magistrate does is she takes a look and sees what they were scheduled for last, where their case is at, if it’s appropriate for her to recall that warrant, and set them up for a new court date.
Most of the time that’s all it is is somebody, their notice went to a different address. Or they moved since they were charged, so they didn’t get their notice. The ability to be able to do this online and clear this up for them without having to post a bond, without having them get arrested, is a tremendous thing.
Again, we’re able to do that relatively quickly so that we can clear those warrants and get them back into court and get their case resolved a lot faster than waiting for the next walk-in on a warrant date, then having to set them for another new date after that.
And it’s minimizing the amount of time that people have to come in to the court building, which is always a good thing.
Driving while License Suspended online process
I was just going to say our driving while license suspended docket evolved in the fact that we were doing the in-person one. Where the magistrate would have one jurisdiction where there are several … we have issues with income and equity.
Unfortunately for them, prior to the secretary of state making some adjustments as far as driver responsibility fees, somebody could end up with two and three tickets for driving while license suspended. It’s a constant battle for them; they pay off one ticket and they have another one. And it’s just to the point where they can’t catch up.
Providing this platform online allows them to clear their license and to plea to a reduced charge that won’t affect their driving record with secretary of state or cause them to have more responsibility fees.
And we partner with local prosecutors just because they would be the ones that would have to approve the reduction in the charge. They’ve all been tremendous in working with us. They still have their ability to review the case and make sure that that’s something that they want to offer.
Then with that when we schedule 90 days out to allow the defendant time to clear their license. They may have to get to other court. We provide them at least with a court location, to let them know where their suspensions are. So that they have the ability to take care of these, and clear their license.
I mean, ultimately, we want these people to be able to move forward. Because without a cleared license, it’s very difficult to get to and from work. Maybe it’s difficult to get a job if your license is suspended.
It’s not just a matter of court ticket that we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with things that are impacting their daily lives, and their ability to be a functioning member of society, and making sure that they are able to provide for their family.
That platform, although it’s a little bit more time consuming for the magistrate, she’s amazing, and she does it. It is so rewarding to see how this can affect someone’s well being and their ability to move forward. And we actually utilized part of our online plea. See, we’re segueing all the time here.
Online Plea Process
We developed the online plea back; I want to say that was 2016 or 2017, before we even went to warrant review. The online plea, courts know. And court administrators will tell you, plea by mail can be so cumbersome in the fact that people are mailing them in. Then you’re having the judge review it, and then mailing back a plea by mail to the defendant. Then you’re waiting for them to mail it back until you sign, before you can update a case.
So, something that could take several months to get done, again, we can do those within a week. And the online plea, we actually went to using that for our payable misdemeanors. Instead of scheduling a court hearing, we’re allowing people to resolve their case online through our online plea system.
The other nice thing about the online plea is that we incorporated that with our driving while license suspended platform. At the end, when they are given that reduced charge, they’re able to do that online, and they don’t ever have to come in for a court hearing.
The arraignment can take place through the online system. They are notified of their rights and responsibilities to the plea. And they’re able to handle that case completely online, without ever having to step in to a court building.
That’s really cool, particularly if they don’t have the legal capacity to get themselves to court by driving.
It always seemed very counter-intuitive, that you would schedule these court cases for these people who had a suspended license, and you would say, “Okay, be at the courthouse at nine o’clock on Monday,” and never questioning how you got there. Some people don’t have access to public transportation, or have someone that can drive them there. So you’re asking them to drive illegally again.
And risk getting another ticket.
Warrant Review Eligibility Criteria
I had one question on the eligibility criteria. What kinds of warrants, or how do you choose which warrant cases can come through the system? Or how’d you define which types of cases come through?
Sure. We will evaluate any warrant request. Especially during this court closure right now, we’re looking at any kind of warrant.
Oftentimes though, we won’t approve a domestic violence case or a operating while intoxicated because those cases require some bond conditions to be put on. Those ones, we would like to see someone in person so that we can let them know there’s a no contact order. There’s a no go this address. There’s a no use of alcohol or illegal drugs as part of your pre-trial release. Those types of charges, we would still require someone to come in.
In the old system, we would require them to walk in on their warrant. The new way of doing things right now, we’re trying to take that in to account, and do those bond conditions remotely, if possible, utilizing, again, technology, with things like Zoom, where we would be able to have that hearing done through the remote access, and allow conditions to be put on those cases so that the defendant understands what they can and cannot do while they’re waiting to come in for their court case.
Online Plea Eligibility Criteria
Thank you. That’s super helpful. Then, on the pleas, what types of infractions or cases are you handling that way?
Very similar, there are certain cases that the magistrate cannot take a plea on. In that case, she’s referring those cases to the judges to take a look at. There are certain cases that judges will not want to do through plea by mail, such as operating while intoxicated.
Because there could be some underlying issues that they want to make sure that that person gets any kind of counseling help that they might need, or even some intervention as far as alcohol abuse or wanting to get an assessment done before they take a plea. Those types of cases, unless they’re super old and the person doesn’t live here anymore, something like that, those would still require an appearance to have them.
Does it work for multiple cases at once?
Yeah. I’m skimming some of the questions. This one, I think I know the answer to, and I’m going to ask you. This is number seven, under how does it work if a defendant has multiple cases. Do they need to apply multiple times?
They do, just so that we have that record in each case file. They can copy and paste, they can do whatever. But yeah. We had one today that had four warrants, so they submitted four requests. If we notice that they’ve submitted for two and we see another one, we can invite them to submit a request for that third one.
There is the ability in the system to … and the magistrate can say, “Okay, you put in for a warrant request. This is a driving while license suspended case. I can invite you to the driving while license suspended platform.”
In fact, the magistrate was able to do that today. She has a docket coming up that was going to need to be rescheduled. So any driving while license suspended cases, she invited them to use the online system. So we’ll reschedule their cases, but it’s quite possible that they can resolve it online and they won’t need to come in after all.
What is the effort to maintain/monitor the system?
That’s great. I’m curious; you mentioned that you were monitoring this week.
How many of your team are monitoring? Maybe you could break it down by role. I know that you mentioned clerks are working on it and magistrate and in some cases, prosecutors.
Oh, sure. For the online traffic review, we designate one or two people. We have four court locations. So we designate one or two people from each location to monitor those.
Usually they go on in the morning. It’s something where it takes them all of about 10 minutes, if that, to update those cases and then update them in the system so that they can move on to the police agency.
As I mentioned, police agencies usually it’s one or two people that monitor them. Then we have one magistrate that monitors all of our platforms. We had a part-time magistrate who used to, his claim to fame was that he monitored the system from Hawaii when he was there, just to say that he did it.
We have officers that work midnights, and they’re checking their systems at 11 o’clock at night versus somebody that’s working all day, and they submit their requests at six o’clock in the evening.
One of my favorite things to say about this system is that you can do it from your couch at midnight, and be able to submit your request in your pajamas.
So that’s the online traffic.
For the other system, the warrants request and the driving while license suspended, the magistrate is the one that’s seeing those. She’s the one that’s making sure it moves where it needs to go. Same with online plea.
Online plea, the clerks aren’t involved until the very end. Once it makes its way through, the magistrate sends the warrant, the plea to the defendant, and the defendant sends it back. Then the clerk gets it so that they can update our case management system, then the defendant can make their payment if there is one.
As far as the warrant, it’s the same thing. The magistrate is reviewing these things. She then sends that to the clerk’s office to say, “Please recall the warrant and set the court date for the next review.” The magistrate is kind of the beginning on all of them, except for the traffic. She’s towards the end on that one.
But we’ve developed a workflow that works well for our office right now. We’re taking on a few different roles. It’s almost refreshing to be able to come revisit these systems that I haven’t had hands on with in a while, to be able to go, “Yeah, I remember how to do that.” It’s fun.
Like I said, when I saw the numbers that you had sent me last week to say we were almost at 5,000, from where we started from, it’s kind of fun.
That is fun.
This question maybe doesn’t belong in maintain monitor. It was, how did you handle data confidentiality? Or are there any concerns about data confidentiality?
How do you know who you are dealing with online?
I know that was something that we talked about in the beginning. What happens if a defendant has their mom request that their, whatever their system. There is a part in there that does say that we made sure to put in the system that checks the box. They have to check a box to say they are who they say they are, under penalty of law.
Similar to someone coming in for a court hearing, and filling out an advice of rights and saying they’re somebody else. It works the same online. You’re swearing that you are who you say you are. And if it’s found out later that you’re not, you can be subject to penalty.
I mean, it’s always a concern, even in real-life court hearings.
I feel a little better about it in that we developed that criteria. But it’s the same whether you’re in or out of the courthouse.
Yep. Yep. I think that one, maybe I’ll say this question because it’s a related one. I think that’s the … is there a concern that someone other than the person charged is participating in the online process without the accused’s knowledge? And are there concerns that you’re dealing with the correct individual?
It’s almost a dovetail to the … on the flip side of that, we have allowed the online plea, they’re allowed to include a attorney, which is helpful. Because you do have some defendants who are pro per, or are trying to handle their case on their own. Maybe they’ve been assigned a public defender to help guide them through this process. Or instruct them on other things that they can look for, in order to clear their license or that kind of thing.
We do have the ability for an attorney to be part of the process. If the defendant decides to retain an attorney or is appointed an attorney, which I think is super helpful. It wasn’t something we had in the beginning; it was something we added in as we worked through some stuff. I think it’s super helpful because you do have some people who need that extra help in order to resolve their case. So I think it’s a benefit to be able to do that.
If you think about when somebody comes in to a court hearing, not only are they taking their time off of work or school, but it can make them very anxious. I mean, it can be an anxiety-filled experience for them, just to come in to a court building. I mean, that’s something that we recognized.
We try to put people at ease. I mean, nobody wants to be here. But we want to make sure that they feel they’re being treated fairly and respectfully. But to be able to take that anxiety out of this process and allow them to do this from their kitchen table, or from their living room couch.
And really, they still get to say what they need to say, or what they want to be heard. But without that anxiousness and without that time away.
When you think about multiple court hearings for some people, it can impact their income. If they have to take time off and they’re a part-time employee, they’re not getting that paycheck.
To take out that courtroom experience and then make it an online experience. That they can do at their leisure, that it’s not a scheduled thing; that can fit into their work life and their home life; I think is priceless. It’s a super-important part of this aspect, and I don’t think we talk about it enough.
I think that’s a really important point. I want to loop back to what you said a moment ago about the ability for someone to include a lawyer in their process. I think that was something that we put into the platform directly as a result of your advocacy for it.
There were times when I thought you guys were going to be like, “Oh, I don’t even want to talk to her anymore.” do anything.
No, no, no. We want to serve you guys. We want to help you serve the public. I think that’s wonderful. I’m so glad that’s something that you’re proud of, because you should be proud of that. That came from your care in expanding the options for people and to get access to justice, and also feel comfortable with the resources that they need. Sometimes that resource is another lawyer involved in the process.
I’m curious on what notification that people receive to know that there is an option to handle these cases online?
How do people know to use the service?
Our police agencies have been super helpful. Every single one of them has added to the bottom of their ticket, “For online review, please go to 14ADistrictCourt.org,” which is our website. They give that notification right from the get-go.
Our officers at first were a little reluctant. But I will tell you now, they love being able to tell people that they can mediate their tickets; not mediate, sorry; they can review their tickets online, because it gets them out of any discussions that they have on the side of the road. They say, “You know, you might be eligible for an online review, so go to the website.”
We also have really pushed for it on our website, as well as doing press releases and other information. Even in the courtrooms to say, “If you come in for an arraignment that you can handle it if you’re driving while license suspended online.” Or if people call in.
I actually developed a script for our clerks to say, if they’re calling in for a traffic ticket, “Do you feel that you shouldn’t have received the ticket at all? Or is this something where you would like to admit responsibility but don’t want the points on your driving record?” If that’s the answer, “Then you can utilize our online ticket review system by going here, submitting your request in.”
A lot of it’s word of mouth. I mean, once it got out there that this was even available, we had actually had people from other courts, that got tickets in other jurisdictions, that were calling and saying, “Can I do my ticket here?” And I’d say, “Unfortunately, no.”
Yeah. It’s been refreshing to see that word of mouth get out there.
Who pays for the system?
People often ask this: Where does the cost of this program go? Does the court pay? Do end users pay? How does that part of it work?
We made the commitment when we started with any of these platforms, that it was going to be something that we would pay. And we would not pass that cost onto our court users. We think that any cost is, the benefit far outweighs it. We feel that it is our duty to be able to provide any extra tools that we can to our customers, as a customer service aspect of things.
Access to justice is something that you can’t quantify. To me, there is no cost to that. Yet, obviously, our budgets are our budgets and we have to really take a look at things and ensure that there’s a cost-benefit analysis every time we add a platform.
I can tell you the platforms that we have, to me, it is far worth what we’re paying to be able to provide these services.
I will tell you. When we went offline on March 13th, to be able to instruct people that they can still resolve their court hearings and their court cases through our online platform, was a relief. I can’t imagine not having it available to people while the court is closed to the public.
For me, that was a relief to be able to say, “Oh, well, we do have these options.”
Still where there a lot of courts that don’t, and it’s unfortunate. Then we are getting calls for cases that aren’t in our court. Unfortunately, we say, “We can’t help you with your case.”
But the forethought in having these platforms in a situation like we have now, it’s just amazing that we’re still able to function like we are, and get some of these done in the current climate.
Yeah, that’s very resilient and forward-thinking of you to put that into place. I think there’s more going on with the commitment of your team that’s helping power through this time as well.
I know I want to let you get back to the rest of your day. There were some questions; I don’t know, on outcomes in metrics. I can probably provide some summary at the end of some of those.
But are there any that you want to highlight? Or is there a close, kind of a concluding statement? You just made one, a good one, about the value of being able to offer an online option.
Which may be sufficient. But if you have any more things you want to share, I’ll give you that choice now.
The Value of Offering Online Access
I will tell you; and we’ve said this from the get-go. Dunrie, you know; you’ve talked to us enough times. Me, specifically.
I was someone that was very skeptical about online anything with court processes. I mean, there’s so much involved in a court process to make sure that we are doing everything to the letter of the law, and that people still feel like they’re being heard. And that they have access to be able to do these things.
I think the one thing we didn’t talk about; we do have public monitors at all four of our locations as well. If someone does not have internet access, or the ability to use their phone, or to find someone that they can use their phone or their computer in order to submit their request, we do have that availability in our lobby area.
To me, we as a court need to be available. And in this climate, 24/7, there’s so much uncertainty in so many different aspects. I want people to know that 14A District Court is available to them when and where they need it. Whether that’s on their couch or it’s on the side of the road when they get a traffic ticket. Or it’s in our court building.
But being able to provide these resources to them, and any convenient to them, convenient to their family’s life, to their work life, to be able to resolve these things that shouldn’t hinder them to the extent that they can’t attend a court hearing, so they get a warrant.
To be able to provide these online resources, to me, is my job as an administrator. My job is to make sure that everyone that comes in to this court building has what they need in order to resolve their case. That includes judges; that includes our court clerks, and that includes defendants.
Being able to provide these resources online is crucial.