Webinar Video: Overcoming Distance with ODR – A Rural Perspective

On Wednesday, November 7, 2018, Matterhorn hosted a Rural Perspective ODR Webinar on Overcoming Distance with ODR. The webinar featured Magistrate Janice Doner from the 74th District Court in Bay County, Michigan. The court has resolved over 4,400 cases online since the launch of their ODR platform in 2014.

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 webinar materials. 

Overcoming Distance with ODR Slides

ODR Webinar Transcript

Dunrie Greiling, Host

All right, my clock says 3:00, so I’d like to get started then. Welcome everybody from as far away as London and as close as other locations here in Michigan. We’re going to be talking about overcoming distance with ODR, hearing the perspective of the 74th District Court in Bay County, Michigan. I want to introduce our speaker and then we’ll spend some time together talking about what they’ve done in Bay, and get your questions answered. We’ll talk for about the first 40 minutes of the hour we have together, and we’re going to reserve that last one-third of the hour for your questions. Some people, you sent in questions when you registered. Thank you very much; we will make sure to get to those. As we go, feel free to drop questions into that Q&A widget in your zoom bar so that we can get your questions answered because in my opinion, from doing this a couple times, the thing that you’re here for is to get your questions answered, and we want to make sure you have time for that.

So hello and welcome to Overcoming Distance with ODR, Rural Perspective. Our speaker today, our presenter is Magistrate Janice Doner. She is magistrate at the 74th District Court in Bay County, Michigan. She has a background in criminal justice from Wayne State University. She has her law degree from the Detroit College of Law, which is now Michigan State Law School. She served as an existing prosecuting attorney in Bay County for over 11 years, and she’s been the attorney magistrate since June 2008. She also serves as a juvenile referee for the 18th Circuit Court on the family division since January 2010. Magistrate Doner has held several roles throughout the court, which I think makes her well-suited to sharing the process and the outreach that the court has done for this program.

Magistrate Janice Doner, 74th District Court

Thank you, Dunrie. Welcome, everyone. I hope I can give you some information, answer some questions on what we’re doing and what you possibly may choose to do in your courts.

Dunrie Greiling 

I’m going to start by just describing a little bit of the motivating for online dispute resolution, and then we’re going to hand it back to the Magistrate for really describing what they put in place there and some of the rationale behind it. If you’re here today on this webinar that’s specifically entitled “Overcoming Distance with ODR,” you’re probably here because you understand that there are barriers for people to come and engage with the legal system in person. Those barriers could be needing to work, like in that picture on the right, you need to do childcare like in that picture on the left, or maybe because you don’t have transportation like that picture in the middle. There’s also psychological barriers beyond the sort of physical or economic barriers as well that people are dealing with when they’re faced with engaging with the court system, either for a ticket or for whatever they have going.

These challenges may mean that they might avoid it; they might not be able to make it or they might not get their day in court. Online dispute resolution, this is a definition from the [IJIS 00:04:09] Court Component Model Work Group: “ODR is a digital space where parties can convene to work out, or attempt to work out, a resolution to their dispute or case.” I should’ve said at the very beginning, I’m so sorry: my name’s Dunrie and I work for Matterhorn by Court Innovations, and we provide online dispute resolution software. In this vein, these are some of the case types that people are using our software for, and there are other systems as well that are used similarly, but here: ability to pay, traffic, and warrant are the three case types we’re going to talk about today with Magistrate Doner. ODR is also commonly used for things in mediation and in family court, and those are in gray here on this slide because we are not going to talk about them today because they’re not being used right now for Magistrate Doner’s court.

This slide here, right at the very bottom of that corner, there’s this JTC Resource Bulletin, which is ODR for courts. It is really a wonderful resource that the Joint Technology Committee has created about courts using ODR across the nation. There are five specific benefits that they call out in this paper and they are access, so ODR, online dispute resolution, helps increase access. Efficiency; it helps increase efficiency both for the court as well as for the citizen. It can speed enforcement or collections, it increases fairness, and it can improve customer satisfaction. I would encourage you to dig in to the JTC Resource Bulletin, and we’ve used that to organize some of our presentation today about the benefits that the District Court in Bay County has achieved with their ODR system.

All right, so this is the transition slide for me to stop talking and for Magistrate Doner to start sharing her experience. I wanted to just give you guys a little bit in the next slide about Bay County. For those of you who don’t know, Bay County is up near the thumb of Michigan, in that beautiful big bay there, the orange county as well as that inset map to the right is the county itself. The lighter blue city is the city of Bay, Bay City, and then the next slide is a picture of the website for the court. Can you tell us a little bit about the court, about what jurisdiction it has and the size of the court?

Magistrate Janice Doner

So Bay County has three elected District Court judges and then one Attorney Magistrate. I share my position with Juvenile Division, and then we have a non-attorney Magistrate who is also our Deputy Court Administrator. District Court has jurisdiction over civil cases up to a value of $25,000, small claims. Looks like our website needs to be updated because now the jurisdictional limit on small claims cases is $6,000. All criminal cases will begin in District Court. Felonies are handled through preliminary examination and then [inaudible 00:08:13] over to Circuit Court. Misdemeanors remain in District Court, and District Court also handles all traffic matters, which is where we mostly use our ODR for, is the traffic matters.

Our caseload in 2017 was at 2,463 misdemeanor filings, civil infractions of 11,365. Our of those misdemeanors, operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs counted for 553 cases. We’ve seen a little bit of a shift in the last couple of years where we’ve had, I think partly in due to the increase of the number of state troopers that are on the road, also our sheriff’s department has expanded a little, so our traffic cases are going up, or civil infractions in particular. That’s kind of one of the reasons why we decided to get into offering something online. Dunrie, did you have something you wanted to add?

Dunrie Greiling

Well, I was about to ask you what your motivation was for getting people an online way to work with the court. I know you just got there. Were there any other reasons why you decided to do this?

Magistrate Janice Doner

It kind of started at the state court administrator level, contacted our chief judge Dawn Klida. She’s a little more innovative; she likes technology, she’s not afraid to try new things, and they asked us if we would be interested in looking at some kind of online dispute resolution for our traffic matters. Then we kind of expanded it into some of the warrant issues or the failing to pay issues because a lot of times, people that can’t afford to pay their fines also can’t afford to come to court. They’re afraid; they think there’s a warrant out for them. They think if they walk into the court house, they’re going to be arrested, taken into custody. Even though that’s not usually what happens, it’s a lot easier to go online and say, “What can I do about this?”, and have that security of not having to come to the court.

We also, with our numbers going up and staff cuts, by doing more things online made us operate more efficiently.

Dunrie Greiling

Okay, so I heard you say you’re interested in operating more efficiently, you want to help people be comfortable interacting with the court to resolve their issue. I’d imagine there’s other people on this webinar who are thinking about those same things and evaluating whether this could work for them. I’m curious, oh. Go ahead?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Go ahead.

Dunrie Greiling

I’m curious if you have a sense of what the farthest, in your experience as the Attorney Magistrate or as a prosecutor, what the farthest you saw somebody travel to the court to participate in a case like the ones that are done now online?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Bay County is right on I-75, so pretty much you can start I-75 from Florida and end up in the UP, the Upper Peninsula. We get a lot of people that are traveling through our county either on business or for pleasure, so I have seen people from all over the state of Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, Lower Peninsula. I’ve also had people out of state, and it’s particularly beneficial for the people out of state to be able to take care of their tickets online. Before, they would just pay their tickets because they didn’t really have any other options. I’ve had people from Florida, Arizona, California, Tennessee, just all over that for some reason were in Bay County and received a ticket, and they’re able to resolve those.

Dunrie Greiling

I’m curious if you have a memory of whether you know where the person was that’s used it, the ODR system where they were.

Magistrate Janice Doner

You know, I had, well…

Dunrie Greiling

I guess you don’t know maybe because they’re not-

Magistrate Janice Doner

They’re not exactly here, but I’ve had multiple states. I just had someone from Connecticut who was online. Like I said, I’ve had Florida, some Ohio, Wisconsin. People from the [inaudible 00:13:12] have definitely been using our system. A lot of people from the Detroit area find it a lot easier than having to make a trip here.

Dunrie Greiling

I think that maybe the next thing to do might be to walk people through at least the start of the system on the next page. Can you do this?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Yes. So, when you’re issues a citation in Bay County, on your citation it tells you if you would like to mediate your case online, and then we have the website to go to which would lead you to the page that you’re seeing now. Also, when someone calls into our court, if they ask about what they can do for any possible reduction or to have their case reviewed, they are referred to the website as well. They still have the option to ask for an in-person hearing or in-person pre-trial conference, but we find the vast majority prefer to do it online. It’s faster, it’s easier, it’s so much more convenient.

Dunrie Greiling

Can you tell us a little bit about what types of cases go through these work flows? What’s eligible?

Magistrate Janice Doner

For the traffic cases, those are all civil infractions. We haven’t reached the point yet where we’re doing any misdemeanors, although I know that’s being explored at some other counties. For civil infractions, our prosecutor designated a list of civil infractions that they would review online, because it’s up to the prosecutor to be part of this. If you have a qualifying charge, you can go online and you can ask for your ticket to be reviewed, and then you’ll see if you’re going to get some kind of offer of reduction or not. We also do the warrant tab there, and what that means is if you have a warrant for either failing to pay your fines and costs or failing to appear in court, you can go online and request that that warrant be canceled and that either a payment plan be set or an appearance date be issued.

Then the past due part, that is for people who haven’t paid their fines on time. In that section, there’s also some ability to pay that’s in there where they can provide financial information so that I can review that and make a determination. Sometimes they may qualify for a reduction in their fines, or what I can set for a monthly payment plan. Most of the people in the past due, they haven’t gone to warrant yet; they’re trying to be proactive so that they don’t get a warrant and they can set up some kind of payment arrangement.

Dunrie Greiling

I think we can go to the next screen. When somebody does click that traffic button, what happens next?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Then they have to provide the information; as you see there, their driver’s license number, what state it’s from, date of birth, and then the system can check to see if they have the citation. Our citations upload daily, and sometimes people will go online before they’ve even uploaded. People are looking for their ticket within minutes or hours of receiving it, so once they can go on there and try to find their ticket and then they go through whether or not their violation is something that can be handled online or if it’s a violation that they would have to appear or simply pay, then they ask the questions about the review and whether or not they’re willing to take responsibility to any reduced charges, and also whether or not they’re willing to do online traffic school if it’s offered to them. Our prosecutor for first offenses most often will offer if you take a traffic class, then they’ll reduce your charge to a non-moving violation that won’t go on your driving record. That’s why they’re asking if you would do that because if you say no, then they’re not going to make you that offer.

Then there’s also the section that allows a person to tell us whatever it is they’d like to know. A lot of people don’t put anything in there. Other people will state either what happened, why it happened, anything else that they believe is important for the court to know. It’s really individual; I’ve seen everything from nothing to paragraphs on what people are writing. Then they have to provide their information, so we need the contact of how do they want to be contacted: through email or through cellphone with the text. Then they submit their request, and then it moves on to the next level, which is how our workflow goes.

We start with the person that received the citation and they initiate the process. If they are not rejected because they have a violation that can’t be reviewed, then the request goes to our prosecutor’s office. There’s two assistant prosecutors that review those. When they review it, they have the information on what the original charge was. They also have access to the person’s driving record through our Secretary of State, and there’s also a tab for them to review [inaudible 00:19:35] judicial data warehouse, which will provide some information that’s not on a driving record such as if a person has already had other tickets that were reduced to non-moving violations, and they can take all of that information into consideration. Then our prosecutors have created a list of possible reductions, because they have to have a drop-drown box in which they can make their selections.

First, they’ll select if they’re going to make an offer, what that is going to be, and then whether or not they’re going to be requiring traffic school. Anything that they make a recommendation on then comes to the Magistrate or courts screen, and mostly I review those; however our non-attorney Magistrate will also review those if I’m not available. I just look over what the prosecutor’s offered. Sometimes if they have information in there about financial hardship, maybe I’ll take that into consideration as to whether or not the standard fine should be assessed or if there might be a reduction in that, and then I approve the offer that’s been made by the prosecutor. That information is then relayed to the.

 Prosecutor. That information is then relayed to the person who received the ticket, and then they have the ability to either accept or reject the offer that was made. And they also have the ability to pay their sanitation right online. And then once they’ve accepted, then the court is notified. Our system is updated.

Once they’ve made their payments and if they’re put on traffic school, that codes are all included in there. And that’s pretty much where it usually ends.

Dunrie Greiling

So at this time, we’re gonna dive a little deeper and talk less about the process and a little more about the outcomes that the court has realized, as well as what the customer satisfaction surveys have informed the court about the success of the program in the public’s eyes. But I wanna encourage you to drop any questions you have about the process, or about anything you hear, into the Q&A widget.

We did have one question earlier, from Skip, about whether there would be a recording available of this webinar. And I should have said right off the bat, so thank you Skip for that helpful reminder. Yes, the webinar will be available for your reference in case you wanna go back to it or maybe share some information with a colleague. And I believe you should receive a link from zoom as a follow up, either one or two days after this webinar, that reminds you of where that is. You can also find that information on the Matterhorn website, so getMatterhorn.com, it will be there for you as well.

So I don’t see any questions popping up, so you must all perfectly understand. But if you do or you don’t, feel free to ask a question. All right. So remember we talked about the five benefits that the JTC had identified through ODR? We’re gonna just go through these individually. And we’re gonna start with the first one, which is access. And certainly that plays into this idea of distance being a factor for some people, not being able to come to court in Bay County because maybe they live in Florida or Connecticut or whatever.

So we talked a little bit about access for members of the public. I’m curious if the online resolution has changed how you, at the court, do your work. Are there any members of that work flow we saw a second ago that work remotely or work outside of normal hours because they can?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Yes. The access, I guess I’d just like to expand-

Dunrie Greiling

Yeah.

Magistrate Janice Doner

For the people that receive the citations, I hear from a lot of people that, to come to court between eight and five, or to even call the court between eight and five is difficult for them. So the fact that they can do all of this in the evening hours, on weekends, it’s very helpful for them. For me, I don’t have to find the time in my docket, set aside for 25 pretrial conferences, which can take hours. So any time I have free time, I can go in and I can look at the requests and I can approve those requests. It takes much less time and if I only have time to review five of them, I can do that and come back to the others later. You can fit it into your schedule much more easily. I know one of our assistant prosecutors, she kind of like to do them at the end of the day, and I’ll often see that she’s making offers well past 5:00.

Also, I can do things at home from the laptop, and one of our assistant prosecutors, she likes to do that as well. If she knows that she’s not going to be available, she may just take her laptop home and work on her reviews that way, kind of at her own convenience and comfort of not having to be here at your office. So really it’s opened up a lot more opportunities and we can review a lot more cases than what we have time for in our docket.

Dunrie Greiling

Actually I wanna just go back one second before we put the data up. I know when we had a conversation before today, you mentioned also that sometimes people try to use Matterhorn as the front door for the court, or try to use the system as a front door for the court and ask for things maybe that they shouldn’t be. I don’t know if you wanted to elaborate on that or not. I think you told the story.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Sometimes, I think the people are just, people are hopeful that they can do everything online when they can’t. Or they just aren’t really reading the directions to see what it is. I know I recently had one woman who had a ticket and she was very frustrated and she finally wrote in our comments, “I couldn’t find how to request a hearing. And so I had to answer all of these questions and I really don’t want to do that, I just want a hearing.” And I know it says up front, “If you want a hearing date, call the court.” But she wanted to fight her ticket. She didn’t want a reduction. She didn’t want to admit responsibility.

So some of it just, people trying to do what they can’t do. And I don’t know if those options will ever become available.

Dunrie Greiling

Yeah. I think it’s just interesting that when you open up a door, people try to use it, right? And they may not always use it for what it’s intended for and that may cause frustration, but it’s also just an interesting thing for me, which is why I brought it back up.

So on the next slide actually, which kinda made a quick appearance, is a little bit of information about, from the customer surveys. And we, I see that Andrew Dane actually asked a question, he asked, “When did we commence the ODR system and what teething problems did you encounter?” And I would like to loop back and actually answer that one. I’m not sure. Donna, can you speak to when the ODR system started in Bay?

Magistrate Janice Doner

We stared in about mid 2014, I think it was August. And you know, in the beginning, we found out some of it, just the way that we had set it up or what our requests were, there were a few glitches. Part of it was just getting the police officers aware of it so that they mentioned it to people or people noticing it on their citation. Any time you start a new process, there’s always some kinda glitches, but we didn’t have a whole lot and I still find that most of our issues are kind of user driven, that they’re putting in the wrong information or they’re not following the instructions.

As far as for the court, it was just us getting into a routine of using it and approving it and then making sure that our systems talked to each other well because we have the court’s software system and then the ODR software system, and just getting those to mesh and for everything to work and update properly.

We were one of the earlier courts to do this. So I hear that it’s even smoother at this point than when we started.

Dunrie Greiling

Yeah you guys were in the-

Magistrate Janice Doner

When we added some of our other, like the warrants and ability to pay, it was a smoother process.

Dunrie Greiling

So I wanted Magistrate Doner to answer that question before I talk to the access data because we didn’t have, I don’t think we had these surveys right off the bat, but these surveys have been collecting since 2016 and what happens is, every time someone completes a case review, whether their request for review was accepted or rejected by the court, and whether they get issued the survey. And then they come back and provide information. And these are the results from the 74th District Court’s, the surveys.

And of the people who responded, about 40, 38% … About 40% of them said they would not otherwise have been able to appear in court. I mean that number is very consistent across all the systems that we have in place now. And we’re up to, getting close to 50 across the nation. And then this number here, the pie chart on the right, shows how people are accessing the system, and this is not the court staff, but the public users of the system and they’re really using their phones 65, 66% if you include the folks on sort of the larger mobile device tablets are coming in on a mobile device, whereas only about 32% of those are on a desktop computer or laptop.

And then this one shows, from the analytics, where people are accessing the public facing websites, so you can see there’s the map on the left side is basically the Great Lakes, and Michigan of course is right in the middle and Bay is, there’s a big sort of a blue dot, a darker blue dot underneath all the light blue dots, which is the center and there’s a lot of folks accessing the public facing website, the public facing ODR site from nearby the court. And then there’s people who are accessing it from all over the Great Lakes and then the map from the right, which is the US map, you can see basically Michigan is completely obscured by the dots. But you also have dots in Florida and on the East Coast and on the West Coast. So people are accessing the system from all over, which is part of that promise of ODR, which is access, geographic access as well as access by device and time.

So there are questions, the second of the five benefits of ODR include efficiency, and wanted to check in with you, get your sense of the perception of time to resolve a case online and in person on the court side. How much effort is put into the in person hearings versus the effort that is put in on your side for the online review, not hearing?

Magistrate Janice Doner

As far as the time, just speaking with the person if they come in to court for an in person pretrial, just dealing with each person takes anywhere from just a few minutes to, if they have issues it can take a little longer. I could be spending 10 or 15 minutes with a person and that’s just for me once they get to me. They’ve already spent time waiting and then sitting down with an assistant prosecutor, explaining what your situation is, getting an offer, traveling down the hallway. So if a person’s lucky for an in person pretrial, maybe they can be in and out of our building in 20, 30 minutes. But it’s not uncommon to see people who are here for an hour or more.

And by doing it online, it takes them a couple minutes to do the registry. There’s downtime where they’re waiting for a response, but then for the prosecutor and for the court, you can review those a minute or two per case, depending on what’s happening if the prosecutor, I think likes to look up the accident reports and other things at times. But you’re not tying up the user’s time as the prosecutor’s doing al of that and then sending it to me. So the efficiency is very great. We can review a lot more cases in a lot less time. We’re not tying someone up, sitting around in court and waiting. And I’m not spending my time waiting for pretrials to come to me and that creates that time for me as well.

Dunrie Greiling

Right.

Magistrate Janice Doner

So it is much more efficient.

Dunrie Greiling

And then there’s … Thank you for that, confirming. And I think there’s a couple of little pieces of info. I’m gonna start doing these a little quicker because I wanna give Magistrate Doner more time and the questions more time. So I’ll say quickly that these are the survey responses since 2016 and people, the public agrees that their case was resolved in a timely manner and that it was efficient for them. It was an easy process. So that kind of underscores the narratives as well, that the numbers bear that out.

So we’re gonna start talking a little. We’ve had some questions about, one question about our revenue after implementing ODR, and this gets at that question a little bit, this next slide. And are you, you able to talk through this one or did you want me to?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Yeah, I’m not familiar with all of these.

Dunrie Greiling

Sure, sure. Yeah, so in this case, this is the outcome of post launch evaluation comparing cases that went through Matterhorn or the ODR system that were not, that were both types of cases, both were eligible to go through, so they had the same offense codes, the same criteria on the driver that would allow it to go through on the Matterhorn. So these are comparable sets of cases. And of those, of the, each case, the cases that are in blue here are the ones that went through the ODR systems and the ones that are in that sort of tan, khaki color are the ones that didn’t.

And you can see that there’s about, close to between, I guess it’s about a 13% default rate on the cases who basically came to an agreement but didn’t pay their ticket on the case that did not go through Matterhorn, whereas the ones that did, it’s more between zero and five percent, which means that there’s a 74% decrease in the cases, the eligible traffic cases that had default as a final disposition, comparing the ones that did go through Matterhorn to the ones that did not go through the online system.

So the ODR, maybe because, we can’t say why. The numbers don’t tell us why. But we can guess that maybe it’s because they’re already on the system and that ability to pay, the button is right there for them to kind of continue that process, but that they’re motivated to finish when they’ve gone through.

Magistrate Janice Doner

From comments that people have made here and just from what we see is once they complete the process, accept an offer, they usually just immediately pay.

Dunrie Greiling

Yep.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Then they don’t have time to forget about it, have to come back to court, send in a payment, have enough cash, anything like that. Because it’s amazing how many people come to court without any method of payment on them. It’s like, oh well I didn’t know you took a credit or debit card, so I didn’t bring it. You know, that kind of thing. So when you’re sitting down and you’re doing it you just grab the credit card and pay.

Dunrie Greiling

You’re ready to go. Yeah. So there’s another question, and this might get back to the efficiency question actually. I see a question from Andrew Dane, and we may not have numbers right off the tips of our tongues, but the ROI in terms of the dollar savings ODR versus in person hearings. I imagine that maybe staff time is included in that. There are calculations that have been done by the social venture fund at the University of Michigan in terms of what it saves, what it can save people, for not giving up an hourly wage and not having to do the transportation and that is a savings to the individual person going through. And the ROI in terms of the savings on the court side.

I don’t know, Magistrate Doner, if you have an answer to that question.

Magistrate Janice Doner

I’m not aware of any actual, if we’ve looked at trying to figure out how much it is saving because part of it is the support staff and if they’re not spending as much time dealing with these civil infractions, then they can be dealing with other things. When we’re not generating notices of hearing, we don’t have postage expenses, we’re not making files for all of these cases that are going through ODR.

Dunrie Greiling

Right. So there’s savings along the process of things that aren’t mailed and aren’t printed. And then there is the return maybe of some time you can spend on something else? You don’t get that time back. You’re still working, but you might be able to focus on something of a different, that takes more, that’s higher value to the court or to the citizen of that time.

So there are, but yeah that’s a good question, Andrew. We need to get maybe some harder numbers there for you. Let’s keep on going. Fairness is question I know we, how people perceive the online system. Do you have a perception, Magistrate Doner, if the online process is as fair, more fair, less fair than an in person process?

Magistrate Janice Doner

I think the fairness is same.

Dunrie Greiling

Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Magistrate Janice Doner

Because you’re still, at least from our point, you’re still having a prosecutor reviewing our case, which is what you would have if you came in person. And some people are gonna be unhappy ’cause they’re not gonna get the offer they want, but it would happen whether they were in person or online, but I think that people are viewing it as fair as what they were given if they came in.

Dunrie Greiling

Yeah, it’s certainly the goal. I think this next slide is from the customer survey data again, and people agree that their case was handled fairly. You are correct in that sometimes people who disagree that their case was handled fairly, were the ones who didn’t get what they wanted. So, this answer is a little correlated with the outcome of their case. I mean, I imagine that’s the same in person as well as online.

If we go to the next slide, we get to talk about the stories now, Customer Satisfaction. And what have you heard? It’s maybe interesting to talk about customer satisfaction with respect to the court because, of course, they’re here because … That are coming to you because they have a ticket or a warrant, and so “customers” may be a funny word, but courts are being asked for customer satisfaction scores, or to call on the people who come to see them, customers. And so, what have you heard from people about the online system?

Magistrate Janice Doner

A lot of times we hear nothing because these people that are going through it simply don’t want to have to have contact with the court. They want to do it as quickly as possible and as easily as possible, and they didn’t want to have to call and stay on hold. But the people that I have talked with, or that might write a response to something, find it pretty fast and pretty efficient, and they like that they didn’t have to come to court. Because people are very terrified of coming to court.

Dunrie Greiling

Yeah, it’s true. Yeah, we have the next couple slides. We pulled out some of those … Oh. People would recommend it. Let’s keep going. Sorry. I want to make sure we get to the next … So these are some of the questions, or the responses, people have left. There’s a free response survey, part of the survey. Now, let Magistrate Doner talk through it.

Magistrate Janice Doner

And this comment is pretty common. They had to say their piece about what happened. And a lot of people aren’t denying responsibility, but they want to let you know their reasons, their motivations, or some circumstances that you might not know about. So, they feel they’re able to be heard, and do it without missing work.

Dunrie Greiling

We slipped one in here since you saw the slide deck Magistrate Doner. There’s one more on the next one. Because of the distance, I wanted to make sure we spoke to that, so we found this one is one that you haven’t seen yet, but is letting us know that it would have taken this person 150 miles to get to court if they wanted to come for this particular ticket. So, it’s another one.

Magistrate Janice Doner

We hear people, they have to take off a half a day of work, or a whole day of work, just so they can come and deal with it. So, that’s one of the best advantages.

Dunrie Greiling

Yep. This is an example from the warrant.

Magistrate Janice Doner

So, he said, “So many people are either … They have barriers coming to court, or they are just afraid that they’re going to get arrested, and to know that they can resolve it online without the fear of being arrested is a great sense of relief.”

Dunrie Greiling

And then, there’s one more. That people who go through the ability to pay are very concise with the words that they’re leaving in the customer responses.

Magistrate Janice Doner

And they’re the ones that have the most to fill out online, so I think that’s-

Dunrie Greiling

Maybe they’re tired by the time they get to this screen?

Yeah, I should say … Maybe it’s not clear. This customer survey are issued after the case is completed, so these answers have no … The case is complete, so these don’t change … There’s no benefit to the people for complimenting the system, right? ‘Cause it’s-

Magistrate Janice Doner

Right, basically-

Dunrie Greiling

The decision has been made. In case that’s not clear. Alright. What’s the next … Let’s keep going. Yep, okay. So, we answered some questions along the way, so I hope you won’t mind that we’re a little bit late to the time that I suggested we would start it with questions, but we did grab some that seemed timely as we went. We did get some questions from you as well when you signed up, so I have those in front of me. I would like to start with this question from Jessica Bennet. “Do you think people have a better understanding of the outcome of their case when they use ODR? Maybe that’s why they think it’s a fair process.” Do you have any response to that, or any insight on that?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Hmm. I never thought about that one. It could be that they feel it’s explained. Although, when they come in, they usually get some responses too, but we … In our court at least, there’s a box in there that allows us to make a comment that’s visible to the defendant, and our prosecutors and myself, we often use those just to answer the questions.

Dunrie Greiling

So, they can ask and get their questions answered?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Yes.

Dunrie Greiling

Online? Yeah. Okay. Hopefully Jessica, that addressed your question. I guess, it is hard to know if anyone understands, but there are some abilities for the back and forth between … To get their questions answered that may help, and there is supporting information. Although, like Magistrate Doner said, not everybody reads everything. So, it can be hard to know.

One question that we had from … Ah, okay. Followup from Jessica. We’ll finish this out. So she says, “Her court is a high volume court, so people often feel that they are rushed and leave not completely sure what happened. So, maybe that time to reflect and read could support that understanding.” That’s a great point. Thank you for sharing that. I don’t know if you have any other comments, or you want me to move on to the next question? Nothing to add?

Magistrate Janice Doner

Nope, nothing to add.

Dunrie Greiling

So, we got a question from Catherine Stocks in Kansas. She said, “How do you fund this without raising the cost to users or sacrificing fees sent to the state?” I’m not sure if that is a question that’s easy for you to answer in your position.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Well, I mean, we don’t … Anything that’s being dealt with online doesn’t have a filing fee, so we’re not sacrificing any filing fees. ‘Cause if you have a civil infraction ticket, you’re just not paying that. Any fines and costs that are assessed still include our state mandatory fees, so the state’s still getting the same amount. But our court, we discussed whether or not there would be an increase in the fines to cover the cost of the ODR, and basically came to the conclusion that the convenience to the court, the saving of courtroom staff, and time, and supplies, and things like that would accommodate for that additional cost. And so, we did not raise our fines and we just absorbed the cost, and so far it hasn’t been an issue. Part of it is we are getting more revenue because people are paying more of their fines in a timely manner. So, it’s worked out well for us.

Dunrie Greiling

Thank you Catherine for that question, and thank you Magistrate Doner for the answer. I have a question from Laurie Hansen in Illinois. “How can ODR benefit individuals with disabilities?” I don’t know if you have any insight into this, any stories you’ve heard, or information you’ve heard from people who’ve requested case review, if you have any insight into whether folks with disabilities have used this system. Do you?

Magistrate Janice Doner

I know of a few that have, and some people have a few difficulties walking. Our courthouse is not real handicap accessible or friendly. District court’s at the end of a very long hallway, so for people that come in, if they’re using walkers, or crutches, canes, I’ve seen it’s real hardship for them to just even physically access the court, so if they can do that from their homes, that is beneficial. I’ve even had cases where they came in, and especially if there’s been some accident, they may be hospitalized or in some treatment, and they can still access it online. So, for disabilities and that, respect it as very beneficial. If someone has a vision or impairment, they would have to have someone on the system with their computer system. And the hearing impaired, it’s much easier for them to do it online than for them to come to court and for us to make accommodations.

Dunrie Greiling

Unless there’s other questions, there’s a question here from Patricia Mills in Tennessee. She asked, “What positions or entities are instrumental in starting this ODR program? Did you work with your state’s AOC on this effort?”

Magistrate Janice Doner

Not sure what AOC is.

Dunrie Greiling

Oh Yeah. Here it’s SCAO.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Yes, we did consult with SCAO and make sure that everything that we were doing was acceptable and appropriate. As far as the parties that were involved in starting this, we started with the court, and then we had our prosecutor’s office involved. We had only minimal involvement with … Law enforcement, I know, met several other counties. The role that our prosecutor plays, some of their law enforcement officers are involved in the edit, and actually doing the reviews, and making the offers. But, we’ve coordinated mainly between the court and the prosecutor as to what violations would be acceptable, how we were gonna set up the program, that type of thing.

Dunrie Greiling

I thank you. I just noticed two questions are in the chat. So, I’m gonna loop back to them. From Lisa Royal, “Do you have a sense of the percentage of your cases that are resolved through ODR?”

Magistrate Janice Doner

Boy …

Dunrie Greiling

And the answer might be, “No,” and we can maybe try to get back to it.

Magistrate Janice Doner

I think we are because some cases, there’s still a large majority of civil infraction tickets that people simply pay and don’t ask for anything on. I would say as far as people requesting in person pretrials, the number that do it online vastly outnumbers the ones that come in.

Dunrie Greiling

Okay.

Magistrate Janice Doner

In fact, one of our township attorneys asked to join the online platform because it was inconvenient for him to come to court so much. So, he much preferred it. Once we started off with our county prosecutor using the online platform for statutory violations, state violations, and then the city attorney for the city of Bay City, which is our largest municipality that issues ordinance violations. So, both prosecutor quickly added the city attorney, and then as I said, one of our larger townships asked to be involved because it was so much more efficient for him.

Dunrie Greiling

That’s good to hear. There was a question from Maritza. I’m not sure if she’s still with us, but she asked, “Is your ODR process mediation, or more of a way to communicate a concern? Or dispute?” I think she might have dropped off actually. I don’t see her on the attendee list.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Now, the word “mediation” to me implies that the two parties that are talking together to resolve their issue. And that would work. I know that there’s some talk about getting it involved with small claims and some of the Friend of the Court issues, or child support, and things like that, but … Really, you don’t mediate with the prosecutor. You put forth what your violation is and what your request does, and you either take it or leave it from what the prosecutor offers. So, I mean, mediation does sound like maybe you can keep asking for something, and that’s not quite the way it works. Put it in, “Do I qualify for a reduction?,” and the prosecutor says yes or no.

Dunrie Greiling

There are other examples with ODR used in for mediation with mediators involved and sidebars and the like. That’s not what we’ve got, what is happening in this court. But that is a very common use of ODR, so that, maybe, what’s driving that question.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Right.

Dunrie Greiling

Yeah.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Maybe some day.

Dunrie Greiling

Good news, yeah.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Claims too.

Dunrie Greiling

Right. You guys do do small claims.

Magistrate Janice Doner

That would be nice.

Dunrie Greiling

Yeah. So, I’ve got a couple questions from Milt. I think we might have answered one of them. So, his question was, “Do you have a sense of the number of cases closed successfully, percent increase after implementing ODR?”

Magistrate Janice Doner

Hmm. Increase in how many have closed successfully?

Dunrie Greiling

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Magistrate Janice Doner

That-

Dunrie Greiling

My sense is the statistics that we’ve seen, we created before, around changes and time to case closure, and changes in that percentage of cases that default. I don’t know on our side of the statistic about you, the cases closed successfully. Do you?

Magistrate Janice Doner

I do not.

Dunrie Greiling

Yeah. Sorry Milt. We’ll get you!

And then, do you have a sense … I think we might have hit this one a little bit, which is, “How much time has implementing ODR saved the court staff?” We talked about printing, and mailing, and the ability to fit things in when you can. I don’t know if you have a number, or any sense of that.

Magistrate Janice Doner

I don’t. We haven’t done any type of an assessment of that, other than just the general feeling that we’re spending a lot less time than we used to.

Dunrie Greiling

Well, that is good news. I know we’re at 3:59. I wanna make sure to thank Magistrate Doner and to invite you all to next month’s webinar. We’re gonna be talking with the magistrate and court administrator in Livonia, and they’ll talk about how they started, and how they gradually grew their case volume over time. And that may get to answer a little bit of Andrew Dane’s questions too.

Thank you so much Magistrate Doner. Really appreciate your willingness to take time out of your day, and share your experience, and what the district court in Bay County has achieved. And I want to thank all of you who participated, and asked great questions, and made an hour of your time as well to talk with us. So, thank you so much and enjoy the rest of your day.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Thank you.

Dunrie Greiling

Thank you. Bye.

Magistrate Janice Doner

Bye everyone.

Learn More

Next Webinar: Thursday, December 6 at 2PM Eastern

Please register and join us for our next Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) webinar on Thursday, December 6, 2018 at 2PM Eastern: Getting Started with ODR – A Gradual Start to Powerful Outcomes

Attend to hear Magistrate Barbara Scherr and Court Administrator Natalie Stojcevska discuss the experience of the 16th District Court in Livonia, Michigan phasing in their ODR platform in order to achieve powerful outcomes. 

The 16th District Court launched an ODR program for eligible traffic infractions in April 2016. Since launch, the court has resolved over 4,700 cases online.

Recommended Resources for Court Connected Online Dispute Resolution

  • JTC Resource Bulletin – Case Studies in ODR for Courts: A View from the Front Lines. This report covers Franklin County Municipal Court’s platform. Open the PDF.
  • JTC Resource Bulletin – ODR for Courts v. 2. Open the PDF.
  • See all JTC Resource publications on the NCSC website.
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