On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, Matterhorn hosted an ODR webinar on Ability-to-Pay Assessment and ODR: In Today's Courts and Looking Towards the Future. The webinar featured panelists J. J. Prescott of the University of Michigan and Judge Alexis G. Krot of the 31st District Court in Hamtramck.
For all who attended, thank you for your interest. For those who could not attend, and for the reference of those who attended, here are the materials from the webinar.
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ODR Webinar Video (slides and speakers)
ODR Webinar Transcript
Dunrie Greiling, Host
I see we have a full room of participants. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm so happy to welcome you to our webinar and introduce our speakers. We have a wonderful panel today and really a great topic. We'll be talking today about assessing Ability to Pay in Today's Courts and Looking Towards the Future and its relationship with ODR, of course.
We have two wonderful panelists today. They are Judge Alexis Krot. She is the 31st District Court Judge here in Michigan. The 31st District Court is in Hamtramck, Michigan, which is a separate municipality within the borders of the City of Detroit. Prior to taking the bench, Judge Krot practiced business, criminal, and family law in Michigan courts and served as the assistant city attorney for the City of Hamtramck and the magistrate for the 31st District Court. She's involved in many community groups and events in Hamtramck as well. She's had many roles within the court and, I believe, brings a great perspective to our panel today. Welcome, Judge Krot, and welcome everybody.
Our next panelist is Professor of Law J.J. Prescott. He is Professor of law at the University of Michigan, the Principal Investigator at the University of Michigan Online Court Project, which uses technology to help people facing warrants, fines, and minor charges resolve their disputes with government in the courts online and without the need, necessarily, to hire an attorney. The U of M Online Court Project was the inspiration for Matterhorn by Court Innovations, which is where I work.
My name is Dunrie Greiling, and I will be the moderator for today's panel. I will be forwarding the slides, as well as taking your questions and getting them answered by our panelists. Welcome, J.J. Welcome, Judge Krot. Judge Krot, I can't see you. You might want to turn your video on. But you don't need to do that necessarily until your section, because we are going to start with J.J. J.J., why don't you start us off on why we're here, what the motivation was, and let's talk about Ability-to-Pay Assessment in today's courts.
J.J. Prescott, University of Michigan Law Professor and Matterhorn Founder
Great. Thank you, Dunrie, and thank you all for being here. I'm just going to start with just a little bit of background on Matterhorn generally and to give you a quick version of the story of how it came to be.
A bunch of years ago now, a number of us became very worried about the millions of outstanding warrants in the US, and the real question is what's causing all of these warrants? When you know that if you can get a litigant into the court with a judge you could usually find a resolution, why do we see so many failed resolutions?
The answer, of course, are the challenges of actually getting to courthouses. Unlike so many other institutions in today's world, it is still the case that courts are operating mostly on a brick and mortar type of framework. That means that, especially for lower level types of things, the actual physical challenge of getting to court, the fact that you have to take off work, that you have to wait oftentimes in lines just because that's how scheduling has to work. Moreover, there are psychological aspects to this as well, especially for those who are poor or who are less sophisticated, have less education, confused by courts, are intimidated by courts, are oftentimes put in a position where they have to publicly speak in order to get their points across. That is all ... Have the results of actually limiting people's ability and even their willingness to use courts. Of course, the consequence is a ton of outstanding warrants and also, more generally, just a ton of unresolved cases.
This is where Matterhorn came from. The goal was to essentially connect people using an online platform designed to mimic how each individual court works at the correctional courts, with the consultation judges and court administrators and the like, design a process where people could connect easily from the comfort of their own homes to resolve their outstanding issues. That has led to ... Dunrie, can we go to the next slide? I'm not sure if you're ...
Yeah. That's really the goal of the platform, is to overcome these hurdles, all of the ones I described, and to resolve and to get cases resolved. Matterhorn has now evolved into a bunch of different protocols, including ... Dunrie, next slide. I don't know if you want me to tell you when to move to the next slide, but I'm moving on to the next slides.
Today we have a bunch of different tool solutions that can be used for opening up courts and making courts easier and more effective. But today we're going to talk about ability to pay, which is the orange hexagon there at the bottom. Let me just step back a little bit and tell you something about the use of fines.
I'm a law professor, I teach criminal law. I don't actually spend very much time on these fines as sanctions, but I'm also an economist. Actually, fines are, from a theoretical perspective, the most efficient form of sanction.
The reason is that they are essentially transfers. When somebody needs to be punished or has to pay for something they've done, they will incur a loss, but they generate a benefit by handing that over to the court or over to the government, which can then use those resources in some other way. Compare incarceration, which is costly on both sides. It's costly both to the person who is incarcerated as well as to the government that is imposing the sanction.
Now there are a bunch of limitations on fines, which is why we don't use that even though they are technically more efficient. One is a lot of people feel like you're pricing harms. When somebody hurts you, if there's a fine you pay, it's essentially putting a price on violating somebody's rights. We don't like that. That doesn't feel right.
For people who need to be incapacitated, fines aren't going to do the same sort of job. Of course, the ability to pay fines is distributed very unequally across society. We all have bodies, and being incarcerated for a day, at least plausibly feels the same to everybody. But paying fines doesn't matter, doesn't feel quite the same depending on how much you have.
Now, of course, the thing we often forget in thinking about fines as being efficient is that you still have to enforce them. As many of you know, who work at courts, getting people to pay their fines is a huge challenge. In my view, looking across many systems, we oftentimes spend four or five to collect six. It's too bad that we waste a lot of what we could do with those fines in just trying to get them to come in.
But even if we think more generally about the use of fines, one of the key assumptions is that people actually have money to pay them. We don't usually think about this in the context of incarceration, where if somebody has a body, you can incarcerate it. But with fines, you actually have to have the ability to pay in order for the sanction to make sense. Could we go to the next slide, Dunrie? Okay, great.
This concern is well-understood among law professors and people who think about when we ought to use these different sanctions for serious crimes. I mean the thought of coming up with a fine for some serious crime like murder or assault, it's not surprising to think that a lot of Americans wouldn't have the money to pay that kind of fine.
But we spend a lot less time thinking about fines for minor transgressions. Traffic infraction, parking and so on, there, we typically assume that the average, the average American can access the money that they need to pay a fine that is optimized for that sort of harm.
Now this isn't true though for the poor. There's a good chunk of society where paying those fines is either impossible or a real challenge. Where somebody is unable to pay a fine or a fee or something they owe to the government, then it's actually counterproductive to force them to pay it because if they can't do it, then what we'd do is we'd wind up generating a lot of costs, and that doesn't help us.
Ultimately, accuracy becomes really important when we're talking about fines as apply to people who are poor. There could be two types of errors, essentially: people who can pay, but are deemed to be unable to pay. This is not great. Somebody gets away with committing an infraction and they're not punished. We don't have that money to use to fund criminal justice or courts. But that's much less serious than the error that goes the other way, in which somebody who is unable to pay has been deemed able to pay.
When that happens, we start to get a cascade of problems. Those problems can be so serious, as many of you know, that it really becomes critical to make sure that we make that determination correctly, whether somebody is able to pay a fine or fee before we enforce it. Okay, next slide, please.
That's what courts are trying to do, as many of you know, is they're trying to determine essentially whether somebody is unable to pay or whether they are refusing to pay. In extreme cases, this is really quite easy. Somebody who has a million dollars in the bank can pay a traffic ticket. Somebody who is ill and in the hospital and has not a dime to their name probably can't pay. But, of course, there are a bunch of closer cases where somebody may be working a low-wage job, has a number of costs and expenses in their lives, a number of dependents and so on, where these are much closer calls.
We know from the Supreme Court, the 1983 decision of Bearden versus Georgia, that if a court determines that you are unable to pay, then it's inappropriate for the court to enforce that fine and, in particular, to enforce it by jailing you. We also know that if somebody ... I think the typical framework would be if you're found to be unable to pay, then the law would require ... If you want to try to impose some kind of punishment, then the next question is to consider restructuring, so reducing the amount that somebody's obligated to pay, putting them on a payment plan, perhaps using alternative sanctions in lieu of the full initial fine.
That's the two-step process. First, is a person unable to pay or are they refusing to pay? If they are unable to pay the current fine as it has been structured, can I restructure it as a judge or somebody who's working with somebody, a litigator or a defendant at a court, can I restructure this to make it so they then become able to comply. Next slide, please.
Okay. What do we know about these decisions? Essentially, there's no law on this. We know that you cannot put people in jail for being unable to pay, but how we determine that hasn't been spoken to. Of course, many courts have their own practices. Many states are trying to determine how to approach this problem either at the administrative office level or at the Supreme Court level.
The consequences are immense, especially if/when somebody doesn't pay a fine. Courts attempt to enforce it by, for example, issuing a warrant, suspending a license. These things impose a ton of costs on society. license suspensions in particular, as many of you know, even if they may be effective for somebody who is refusing to pay, they are much less effective for somebody who's actually unable to pay. If they stretch and maybe borrow money from people or do something, perhaps something we don't even want them to do, to get a hold of the cash is obviously counterproductive.
Of course, what some courts do is just add further fines and fees to somebody who's not able to pay. Things like having your license suspended make it more difficult for you to comply, so it makes it more difficult for you to hold a job, and outstanding warrants, of course, cause people to avoid the police or the courts, to not call the police when they need help, when they're being victimized, and to generally steer clear of anything where somebody might seek to arrest them.
Once you think about these significant consequences, the importance of accuracy and determining whether somebody's unable to pay, it's surprising it doesn't get more attention than it does. Although I think in the last few years, it has done a lot more. I'll just say that if we're not doing the determination of ability to pay well, then I mean fines become arguably no longer efficient. I mean if we're generating a lot of social costs by people being asked to pay fines they can't afford, it's really unclear whether that's the way we should be trying to enforce minor offenses, minor laws.
How do they actually do this in practice? Well, some of you will know that because courts have a great deal of discretion and judges have a great deal of discretion in determining this, there are a bunch of ways. I'm sure some of you have heard stories, but, of course, there are documented cases of judges asking about tattoos, asking about a piece of clothing that is expensive.
There's an anecdote of a judge who would just declare as a matter of law that anybody who smokes has the ability to pay. If they can sustain a habit of cigarette smoking, then they have the ability to pay. Stories you hear of people looking at shoes and saying, "Well, those are expensive shoes, so this person must be able to pay."
Now all of these things are potentially relevant, and the question is whether or not they're given more weight in a lot of determinations than they ought to and whether or not there are cultural assumptions that go along with pointing to some of these considerations. Different groups in society can prioritize how they spend their money in different ways, and it doesn't necessarily imply that they are any less close to the line or on the other side of the line from the inability to pay perspective.
Now the way our system usually works in these circumstances is we rely on the adversarial system. We rely on the fact that people can defend themselves, get up and actually say, "Hey, it's true. I have this jacket, but here's the story about how I have it. It was a gift. I tried to sell it. I don't know how to sell it. I can only sell it for $5 on eBay, and it would cost me $5 to mail it. It just doesn't make any sense. Here's all of the things you ought to be taking into account."
But this doesn't really work when we're dealing with unrepresented defendants who oftentimes don't have familiarity with how the court works or the ability to represent themselves very well. For example, there are plenty of people who don't even ... They don't even know about Bearden versus Georgia, that they can't be jailed when they're unable to pay. The fact that, in their view, it may be irrelevant whether they have the money or not, or have the capacity to get the money or not. It could help explain why judges wind up not getting the information they need, even though, normally, we tend to rely on that.
Ultimately, what we wind up with in many of these circumstances is decisions with insufficient context. We have lots of judges who are making decisions based on questions they asked that are not informed by the full panoply of information, that might be really relevant and, of course, the litigant or the defendant herself can't bring to bear the things that the judge ought to be taking into account, at least not in any kind of systemic way.
Sorry, I skipped one.
Let me just quickly, just very quickly, because I know I'm taking a lot of time here. I want to just say that the importance of this determination has not been lost on many courts. Some of you may be in systems where there has been some change and some attempt to deal with this.
The solutions fall into the categories you see here on this slide. More robust legal standards, essentially giving people of the benefit of the doubt, so changing what it means to be unable to pay to being something more like likely to be unable to pay, or changing the standards so that it's easier on the defendant.
Using list-based definitions. Rather than just having a single phrase or a single term, actually laying out the kinds of things that ought to be considered. For example, whether the person has any defendants, whether the person is employed, whether the person has any disabilities. These things can be actually incorporated into a definition of the standards for whether somebody is able to pay.
Some states have gone with required hearings. If we start from the assumption that some people out there are not going to know that they could ask for the judge to think about their ability to pay, then one way we can deal with that is just by making sure that every judge actually goes through the step of considering whether the defendant before them is able to pay a fine or fee to make sure that it's just not missed.
You can also require that the judge put some finding about their ability to pay on record so that somebody can raise it or examine it later There's also a bench checklist, things that kind of reminders for judges to check or to ask about, so that they can collect, hopefully, more consistent, more comprehensive information.
We've actually gone at this a slightly different way. In thinking about how to solve this, of course, reforming the law and changing how systems work is very difficult and, in particular, we hire judges, we choose them because of their ability to think in a complicated, nuanced environment with lots of pieces of information flying around. It's very hard to think about how to write something down on paper that will effectively guide judges in a consistent way.
We've done it a little bit differently. What we've tried to do in this space, we just focused on the informational environment. In other words, continue to make the judge front and center and instead tried to increase the ability of the defendant or the offender to participate in the process, to share information quickly, and to improve decision-making.
By that I mean not require that the judge ask all the questions or that the judge collate all the information or the judge make sure that everything is being caught, actually the judge going through the checklist. That's unnecessary.
What's acknowledged today, especially if you have an online platform, it's pretty easy to have what the judge sees before them designed in advance and the information collected in advance so that actually you can wind up having more information, better information, consistently collected information, and present it to a judge right then and there so they can actually spend less time thinking about it than they otherwise would. I'm not sure if that's my last slide or if there's....
What our tool, Matterhorn's tool, does is try to, as I just said, accomplish a lot of this by using the online platform approach. The defendant can access the court not by coming in with paper documents but can come in and actually ... Sorry. Can access the court, the judge, the Ability-to-Pay solution from home at any time of day, can upload documents, do all the things they need to do to get the information in front of the judge.
The judge doesn't actually have to do this collection, it happens automatically. Then the program can actually distill this information, present it in a way where a judge can dig in more deeply or can look for the big picture. Now where does this person ... Based on all of the information they put in, where do they fit with respect to the poverty line, how much can they afford per month?
These kinds of calculations can all be done in advance, and the menu-driven approach of this whole thing, make sure that judges have access to everything they might want to see, even if many judges don't want to see it on a regular basis. You wind up with more information, better information, and yet it requires actually less time and effort on the part of the court.
It may require a little bit more time and effort on the part of the litigant, at least in the sense of if they actually try to submit information, it might take a little bit more time. But, of course, it's enough of a challenge already that so many people just don't even ... They don't even participate in this and they wind up being determined able to pay or, I should say, there's never any determination that they're unable to pay, and they wind up in a much worse situation. I think that's probably for me. I think I'm all done for now.
Okay. Thank you, thank you. I want to make sure, for everybody who just joined or joined a little bit into it, that you all know that we're going to save about a third of our time together for questions. Please make use of the Q&A tab in Zoom. You can type your questions in and then we will answer them for you live at the end of the webinar. I want to make sure you are aware of that question button and make use of it. I see a couple ones have already come in. Thank you so much.
Now at this point we're going to turn from the halls of the academy to the halls of the 31st District Court in Hamtramck, Michigan and hear from one of our judges who has implemented this in her court and what her experience has been. I am going to do one more slide and then I'm going to hand it off to Judge Krot.
For those of you who are maybe thinking about the ODR process in general for courts, just showing you what the online flow looks like in the Hamtramck court. The defendant would come to the website to search, give their information into the assessment, maybe upload some supporting documents, and then they might come back when they're notified to come back.
The court clerk and the court judge are then participating in the process. The clerk may validate, may notify if required, the judge would review the information, set the plan, finalize the plan, and then initiate conversation with the defendant to move forward. Then the system will notify and remind the defendant about compliance.
That's generally how it works, but for the very specifics, we're going to dive in. I think we're answering one of the questions already in the Q&A with what it looks like. Handing it over to Judge Krot. You may be on mute, Judge Krot. I can't hear you yet.
If I could sing better, I would sing for you to fill this little bit of time. Okay. She might have logged out and logged back in because I've lost my ability to chat with her. I can start this, but, of course, she's going to be much better at this, and she's the one who is in it.
But the high-level version of the scenario is that there's someone who's got an open court case. In this case, this very cold-looking woman wearing a blanket in the snow. She needs to resolve it, but she can't get to court as she balances the conflicting demands of her challenging financial situation, her childcare, her job hunting, and her transportation issues. I'm going to keep going, Judge Krot, but when you get here, please interrupt me and just jump in because you're going to do this better.
We're going to show you the user interface here. The user interface is shown here with pictures as if it was on a desktop computer, but its fully responsive in mobile. It ensures a quality experience from any device. This is what you would get if you went to the existing 31st District Court Online Ticket Review website.
In this case, Steffi would be hitting the button in the middle for past due. She will have searched for her case and it turns out ... Look at that. She's found her overdue case. In this case, she's got an overdue amount on a speeding ticket. She can continue and then ask for her case to be reviewed. At this point, she enters her email and her cellphone information.
At this point, she starts her questionnaire, her assessment. She can get all the information that the judge is going to need to review her case together in an organized fashion ahead of time rather than get to court, for instance, and have 13 of the 14 documents she needs and one is sitting on her kitchen table and they have to restart.
This is her online assessment which has some guidance information for her so she can get started and know where she's going. It turns out that people usually are typically completing this via a mobile device.
There's questions here. If you choose the "I work full time" answer, it'd ask you questions about your average monthly income. However, in the second half, you can see on the side part of the screen, the questionnaire is smart. If you say you are unemployed, it doesn't ask you what your average monthly income is from employment, for instance, but it will still ask you the questions about your monthly income from sources other than employment. The questionnaire will ask you the appropriate questions based on the answers that you've given to previous question.
Other questions, too, about ownership of property, vehicle, savings/investment accounts, filling it out on what types of payments that you have and what you owe on them and what other expenses that you have. Then if there are any special circumstances that should be considered.
These next few are defendant statements from that questionnaire. I'm going to turn this over to J.J. Let me see if I can troubleshoot anything with Judge Krot.
J.J., can you take the next couple of defendant statements for me?
Yeah. Although I can't advance the slides, so I'm happy to-
Okay. I will advance the slides.
These are statements. When people fill out the assessment, they can add information about their situation to add context. You could imagine this being the open-ended question that a judge would ask to somebody who is appearing in open court to explain their situation. Sometimes they're short, but they're often to the point and clear.
One of the nice things you can imagine here is that somebody who is particularly uncomfortable speaking in public, who might just choose not to even raise the issue or to put it off until later can spend time trying to think about exactly what they want to do, what they want to say and so on. Let's move to the next one, Dunrie.
All right. This is a little better example of a more complete statement. Now, again, you can imagine somebody saying all of this in this clear, organized way in court. But this actually hits a lot of the key points. You won't be surprised to learn that it seems likely that after having gone through the tool, including potentially uploading information, answering questions, that it actually helps organize what a defendant or offender might think is relevant to this consideration.
"I'm a family of five with a disabled partner. I'm the only source of income. I'm currently facing an eviction as I am a month behind on rent. I'm also facing a shut off for water and electric." This is somebody who might have been primed for the fact that the amount you spend on utilities, of living, all these things matter in determining whether or not you're going to be able to pay.
Note also at the end that this is a person who just says, "Listen, I'm happy to comply, but I just need help on figuring out how to restructure this." That doesn't mean that Shirley here is ... That that's the way the judge should go or necessarily has to go. There could be lots of other things that the judge wants to take into consideration. They could even go further. They could decide, based on the statement and other information, that the amount should be reduced or wiped off all together. Anyway, there's an example. Dunrie, what's next?
Here we go, something similar. A real rough time in life. This is a little more of an explanation of how they wound up in the position of having the ticket and gives a little bit of their backstory, not just on their economic situation but on their interaction with the court, all of which may be useful.
Now, of course, when you have this kind of open-ended opportunity, there's going to be some stuff that is occasionally submitted that is legally not relevant, but, nonetheless, may be useful in shedding light on some of the legally relevant considerations a judge wants to look at. All right. Let's go. What's next?
Here we go, just another example. I mean many of these are just interesting for getting a sense of the kinds of people that have been using this tool in Hamtramck, what is explaining their inability to pay, whether they wind up with a warrant or just are overdue. You could see that people oftentimes have, not surprisingly, dependence that make it difficult for them to actually find ways to make money to pay their fines.
All right. Again, somebody who's trying to put themselves in a better position and where we might worry that an approach that causes this person to have their license suspended or, alternatively, forces them to, for example, not go to school in order to work could make sense in the very short run, but could, in the long run, be a much worse choice.
They're all examples. You see homelessness has popped up a couple of times, people who have trouble affording things that we oftentimes think of as just bare necessities, including accessing to a phone. Go ahead, Dunrie.
I'm not sure exactly what we were going to do with this set of slides, Dunrie, but this continues to show what the defendant sees. Notice up on the left-hand corner, there's a box indicating the status. This tool's been designed to be very friendly, the kind of languages is used to be understandable, easy to understand for some people with an eighth grade education. We spent a lot of time trying to make sure that it's clear and helps you understand the process.
We'd like to believe that in doing it once, it's like a designing a courthouse so that it's really easy for everybody who walks through the door to know where they ought to go inside the courthouse. But, of course, the nice thing about this is that we can adjust it, it's configurable. If courts want to do it somewhat differently, you want to change the process, change how certain things appear, that's all possible.
Thank you, J.J. I should have mentioned that way earlier when I was going over the defendant interface. He's right, it's entirely configurable to the way that the court wants to communicate with people, with your people in your community.
Including the kind of information that is collected. I mean from the beginning, that has been a real goal of using this approach is not trying to push courts to do it differently, but instead to give them technology that will allow them to do what they want to do much more easily. If there's certain information or certain questions that you feel should be asked or shouldn't be asked, it's very easy to reconfigure this so that it essentially mimics the best of all worlds from any particular court's perspective. Okay. I don't know if you want to go onto the next slide.
This is how the judge will observe, will engage with with these with litigants, with these defendants. Essentially something that looks a little bit like an email inbox. There's status. Again, this can also be adjusted on how it works. We've added new tools based on suggestions from users on how to make this work better. But you'll see over on the right, there's a status report on where this is and what the judge needs to do. But I'm guessing that the next slide will be, if you click through, what you might see.
Here the judge is going to be able to get in and observe all of the information that the person has provided. Now they may want to do it the way they used to do it, which is to just look at the things that they would have asked questions about in the same order they would have asked questions in open court, or they may prefer to do it in some other way, maybe skip to the end to some kind of overall assessment, if that's built in to a particular instance of the tool being used in the court. Go to the next one.
Okay. Here's the opportunity for the judge to make a determination after reviewing all of the information that comes in. They can decide one payment, what's the amount going to be, payment plan, how should it be structured, whether or not the person can be accorded community service. Some of the courts using this are in favor of using community service, others are not. That button or that option to use community service can be on the form or doesn't have to be on the form. It's up to the court how they want it to appear.
You'll see at the right where there are notes, the judge can include notes to help them remember why they did certain things, what concerns they had. Then if you see over in my templates, there's a little link there. Judges are able to essentially just structure a more standardized answer. If they have a regular type of interaction with a particular court where somebody says, "I don't know why this doesn't matter," or here's some argument they hear regularly and they, in the judge's view, doesn't matter or shouldn't matter to the determination. The judge can go to my templates and it will pre-populate with the language the judge likes to use.
It turns out that a lot of our judges use these templates and then go in and individualize the email to especially outside of the ability to pay context, but in the traffic context, for instance, helping to engage with the defendant, helping to explain why their argument makes sense or doesn't make sense.
It's actually really quite remarkable. I mean you'd have to believe that at least a number of people who are reading these communications directly from the judge really take it to heart when, for example, there's a lesson about how traffic law works or, in this case, whether something is relevant to the ability to pay determination in that court.
Now at the start of all stages, there's back and forth notification going on. Judges, you saw their little queue, you see that they keep track of where the case is. Litigants, users of the court also have regular updates. There can be reminders to encourage compliance, "Okay, you have a payment coming due. Here's this link." We rely on text and email to do this. You can easily use the tool through a computer or through a tablet or through a phone. It looks really great. We're happy to show you, if you want to take a look at it.
But, of course, again, this is all about lowering the cost and making sure that the car doesn't drift off the road and wind up causing an accident. We want to keep people on the road towards compliance, which is better for courts and better for people.
I believe I have unmuted Judge Krot. Did that happen, or have I unmuted [inaudible 00:44:32] the wrong person? Judge Krot, are you speaking? It looks like I ... Boy, I'm having trouble with my ...
Do you want to hit me with the next slide and I can try to keep going, or-
Yeah. Hey, Judge Krot. You look ...
Judge Alexis G. Krot
Unmute now. Okay.
There. All right. I will stand aside. I'm sorry. I hope I didn't take too much of your slides there.
No, you did a great job. But I think you did all of them.
Well, maybe you can add some thoughts about anything I might have missed or something from your own experience. Actually, I don't know whether there are more slides for Judge Krot to comment on.
No, we're on the very last one. But I think you did a great job, J.J, so we can just keep moving forward.
Judge Krot, there are some questions that you will be able to answer at the Q&A, too, that are being queued up for you. We'll bring you back in at that point. It must have been torture for you to listen to us present your slides, but I'm so happy we have you back with us by voice. I'm glad this worked out.
Thanks for bearing with us presenting Judge Krot's slides much worse than she would have done. But, yes, here. It doesn't apply as much in the world of ability to pay, but I want to make sure that we showcased the fact that Matterhorn can ... When a court chooses to have signatures as part of a formal agreement at the end of a negotiation on the platform, that we allow that directly. You can sign on glass with your finger on your mobile phone if the court allows that.
Here in this particular slide is showing just that, where the agreement has been created. In this case, there's a plea. They can choose how to plea and then sign and type the full name as the signature for the signature. Then here you can see how it looks on the mobile phone. That doesn't apply in Judge Krot's court, but it is something that courts do use as part of the platform. All right. Yes, we heard just a little bit of Judge Krot.
Now I'll be handing this right back to J.J. to talk about....
All right. I'm going to do this fast because we don't have too much time left. We've been doing ability to pay now for more than a year and a half in a few courts. We have some evidence to suggest that it's been great. Why don't you move me through?
Here are just some quick information about people who are using the tool. You can see some of the outcomes, like mean number of payments in a payment plan, the mean amount that people have been asked to pay.
I think the key thing that should come out of this is that actually because this information is collected automatically, it's actually quite easy for a court who wants to understand trends or how to essentially benchmark how they're doing things and to try to improve. It's easy to pull the data out and to study it.
In Hamtramck, the average number of days to approval or at least a consideration is less than a week. In our view, from the point in which somebody actually sits down on their phone and submits this information, that's pretty impressive relative to what they would have to do if they came into a court.
Ease of use. We have at this point a bunch of comments. It's obviously hard to study in a rigorous way, ease of use. In theory, we could spend some time looking at future changes to see how quickly people are going to be able to get everything submitted, but what we have are just reports from people who've used it, suggesting that it is actually easy to use. Although there's always ways to improve.
Confidence in conclusions. Here, one of the great things about this is that all the data is in one place. It's all in one place. The tool allows distillation of the information. Having a bunch of information about income and expenses and dependents and all of that is great, but it's hard to get a picture quickly.
But if you want, you can actually have it distilled into something like where does this person fit based on what they've submitted relative to the poverty line? How do they fit, for example, relative to other people in this jurisdiction? In our view, having more information, easier to access more comprehensive information makes for better decision-making.
Here, you can see some of these cases take two to three minutes, some take more depending on the circumstances. But the judge reports they get more information and better information doing it this way, having a cheat up for in this easy-to-digest format than essentially extracting it by hand each time somebody comes before somebody, before the judge.
Cases get handled more quickly. It was already pointed out how much easier it is for somebody to get this process going, to have it resolved relative to the more traditional approach. Here's a judge comment about that. "Two to three minutes, the system streamlines it, giving me exactly the info I ask for, and the defendant also has the option to write me a note as they do."
You'll notice the last little phrase there: "It saves us a lot of time." I think that's critical because, ultimately, of course, saving time in and of itself is great for courts, but what's also important to realize is that when things take a long time to do, they're not done as well. They are oftentimes skipped if the person doesn't really make it clear they want to do it. In our view, when things take less time, they're easier to do, there are a lot more people who are likely to benefit from this kind of access. In this context, what that means is we're going to wind up having much more accurate outcomes.
It reduces access costs. I mean I think this is based on the ease of use. I don't believe there's much here to show. Obviously, people don't have to go to the courthouse, they can submit things by uploading through their phone. At least for a large chunk of people, this is much easier.
I want to make sure to comment, to add that this option is just an option. In all of the ways we've used Matterhorn, we never suggested to court, I don't think any court has actually done it, eliminated the traditional avenue. This is just if you can make it downtown, if you prefer to use the courthouse in person, great. If that's really hard for you to do because getting to court during business hours is difficult, then you can use this much less costly approach.
We know, in talking to people who've used Matterhorn, and in particular this Ability-to-Pay Tool, that a lot of people would just not have been able to go. In other words, they've been deemed refusing to pay, would not have been able to make their case, and would have eventually had a warrant or had their license suspended. They wouldn't have been put on a payment plan, so, of course, the court winds up collecting less. People wind up in a not great situation of being on the [inaudible 00:52:59] of the court, potentially having a warrant out for their arrest. It seemed like a good chunk, if not a large majority, of the people using this tool would have been in that position.
We also, in talking to people who've actually used this tool, one question is like, "Do you feel like this is fair?" Of course, the people who've used the online approach have the option, I'll make sure they know that they have the option of doing it another way. In that sense, we have people who are more comfortable with this. But even though we have a number of people who make requests that aren't granted, they say, "I want to pay less," or, "I want to pay on a payment plan," that request is not always granted. Of course, judges decide based on what they see before them. We still have a pretty strong showing among users that this is fair, it works out well.
The communication improvement, I think, is ... I think it should be fairly obvious that if you have to come in and speak with somebody one-on-one, that obviously reduces the regularity and the comprehensiveness of the communication. If you forget to say something, well, that's too bad. The fact that you have the space where you can communicate with the judge to help educate them on your status is incredibly useful.
I'll also add that it actually makes things, at least in some circumstances, easier on judges who might want to ask certain questions or might want to comment on potential options for somebody but are uncomfortable doing so if it's going to happen in a wide open room with lots of people. The direct connection can free the judge to give a potentially better advice and to explore even better ways of dealing with the outstanding compliance problem.
I'm just going to want to hand it back to Judge Krot for the next two, but I also want to make sure we leave them a couple of minutes for questions. Back to you, Judge Krot.
Okay. You can hear me now, though?
Okay. All right. The words here are perfect, and it is embarrassing for people to come in, ask for a payment plan. I don't always get through all of the correct questions. I don't have all the information I need. With the online system, it alleviates that. Everyone has the same questions, and the only person seeing it is the me, not 50 people sitting in the courtroom listening to this person have to put all their problems out in public. Dunrie, can you go to the next slide, please?
The way that our court does it is as soon as the person makes two payments, the warrant is recalled. They still have the outstanding issue, but there's no longer a bench warrant. That's just our policy. I'm sure other courts have different policies. But it has led to a great reduction in the bench warrants that we have in our system, and that's good for the court users as well.
That's huge. That brings us really back to the beginning motivation for us getting started at all. I'm going to rush us through this slide, which is recap of the assessment tool benefit that J.J. and Judge Krot went over and get to your questions.
Judge Krot, I'm going to give the first questions to you. There's two related questions. "What type of notification does a litigant receive to learn about this ATP assessment? Is it included in a summons or other notice? Thank you." The second half of that question is, "How does your court publicize this service, other forms besides website?"
It's actually on the bottom of the traffic tickets that our police department issues. It has the Matterhorn website listed. Then we have our court website, which is obvious, through your question. Then we did a couple press releases. When people call in, our clerks tell them, "If you want to know about payments, you can come in on a walk-in day or you can use the online system." I'm pretty sure that they can email the person who's calling a link so that they have that information easily accessible to them.
Thank you, Judge Krot. I have another question. It depends on how much you know about exactly how your clerks use it. This may be a question we'll have to get back to if you don't have an answer off the tip of your tongue. But Abby Graves has asked, "How do the clerks validate information received from the defendant? How much time are they spending on this?"
They don't validate the information. Whatever the person sends in, I assume that it's true, just like I would in the courtroom. I don't ask anyone for a rent receipt or to look at their water bill or anything like that. I just assume that what they put in the system is true.
The time that the clerks spend on it, it does go to the clerks first. They verify ... Verify is the wrong word, but they do somehow handle ... They pull the file and put it in my basket. We do still have some paper here at the court, but they don't spend any time verifying the information.
Thank you. This is a question, I believe, that both J.J. and Judge Krot will have been asked in the past on this. [Terry McCord 00:59:10] asked, "Will the truly poor have access to online services?"
Shall I take a stab at that? I mean the answer is that's a concern. I mean, increasingly, the digital divide is shrinking. We do have, however, an example of somebody who used the system even though they can't afford a phone. Really, ultimately, what you need is access to a smartphone. It is increasingly rare that somebody doesn't at least know somebody they trust that would have access to a phone.
But it is a real issue, and that's one of the reasons why, at least for a while, it seems inappropriate for any court to entirely to running any kind of determination solely online. From our perspective, there are a bunch of people who can use this technology, and it's very difficult for them to get to court. If this is one option they can use, great.
Of course, if you don't have the ability to access the internet or a smartphone or a computer, you're no worse off, because you can go in and use the court as you did before. Actually, in some ways, you're much better off because now the court is much less crowded. We have some evidence and some other context that you wind up waiting a lot less, it's much faster, people are more satisfied because a lot of people who do have access to the internet take care of their things in advance.
One of our attendees just chimed in, Liza Fusik. She says that they use public terminals to allow for defendants to use the online option. That's an FYI from District Court 14-A in Washtenaw County. They do make sure that that is available to people who can come to the public terminals.
There are other questions here. I know we just have one minute more officially, but I can stay on a little longer to make sure these questions are answered. Of course, we can follow up by email to get your questions answered as well. I'm going to ask one from Joe Tommasino: "If a defendant has multiple cases, do they need to complete multiple assessments?" Judge Krot, how does your court handle this?
They're all in one. Oftentimes if they're ... I see this a lot. Typically, a person who will have two or three unpaid civil infractions and then they may have a misdemeanor that's not resolved, and I will give them a payment plan on the defaulted civil infractions. Then there is a box where you can send them a note and I say, "The payment plan is just for the civil infractions. Come in and talk to me about your bench warrant. You won't be arrested as long as you walk in." Yes, you can handle everything with one transaction.
Maybe this is a good place to end. Chanel Daniels asked, "Will this presentation be emailed to everyone that participated in the webinar?" Absolutely. You will receive a link to the full archive of the webinar. You'll get the recording of the video, as well as the slide deck will be available to you after the day. It just takes the system a little while to get the video available. But you can have the full presentation.
Thank you for participating, for your attendance and your interest and your good questions. I'm sorry for all the questions that we weren't able to answer, but we will answer those offline.
Yes, I'm going to repeat one of the questions that was just added by Deborah Hataaja-Deratany, forgive me if I've not pronounced your name correctly, who says, "Thank you so much to Judge Krot and J.J." I heartily agree. Thank you, Judge Krot, for your contribution. I'm sorry we had trouble with your audio. Thank you, J.J., for jumping in and playing two roles today.
Happy to help. If anybody wants to reach out to me at the University of Michigan, feel free to do so.
Okay. Yeah, one more question I am going to answer real quick as we go out, which is, "How many courts are currently using this platform and how any states?" Matterhorn has expanded to 45 courts in eight states. Please get a hold of us if you would like a reference to talk to someone who is using the software.
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