SJI promotes and supports innovative technology projects that will improve court processes and procedures, including technology projects that: streamline case filing and management processes, thereby reducing time and costs to litigants and the courts; provide online access to courts to litigants so that disputes can be resolved more efficiently; make structural changes to court services that enable them to evolve into an online environment.
Implementing National Open Court Data Standards in Pilot Courts
The National Open Court Data Standards (NODS) were developed by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and are endorsed by the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) and the National Association of Court Managers (NACM). The purpose of the NODS is to facilitate the consistency and sharing of state court data by standardizing logical and technical data standards. NCSC will work with states and courts to help them assess their needs, develop strategic plans for NODS adoption, help courts map their data to the standards and then create programs that enable consistent extracts. NCSC will also provide assistance to courts in developing data governance policies relative to data standards, data quality, and data sharing. NCSC will apply the knowledge gained from this process to create implementation case studies, improve the leadership and user guides to NODS, and create a NODS guide for users of court data.
Pennsylvania National Open Data Standards (NODS) Civil & Family Data Pilot
The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts’ (AOPC) statewide case management systems provide state and local government agencies, the public and the media with data about criminal, juvenile, lower court and appellate court matters, but do not encompass civil and family general jurisdiction cases. Like many states, Pennsylvania’s civil and family case data are grounded in disparate county systems that are not linked, and speak different languages. The National Open Data Standards (NODS) project developed standard business definitions in plain English for case management data (logical standards) and programming descriptions that computers can understand and manipulate (technical standards). While the NODS project has conceptually advanced national data standardization goals, additional work products are needed to refine the standards, explore implementation tasks such as system programming and staff training, and strategize national dissemination. To achieve these ends, piloting of the standards is the next step towards advancing their widespread adoption. This project will facilitate these next steps, enrich Pennsylvania’s data capacity, and produce a tested implementation plan generalizable to other states that includes identification of high value NODS data items, essential vendor contract components, and a fully evaluated user training strategy.
New Hampshire Courts Website Redesign
The New Hampshire Judicial Branch (NHJB) has outlined the critical need of web development, restructuring, and redesigning of the New Hampshire Judicial Branch website. The NHJB’s court website has emerged as the single most important vehicle for public communication and education, as the courts effectively connect with more than 1.3 million New Hampshire residents. With the pandemic placing additional pressure on remote courthouse access, this project comes at a particularly critical junction in the court evolution. The NHJB expects to have a fully developed and launched court website that will provide far greater access to and satisfaction with court resources for self-represented litigants, attorneys and the legal community, educators, and the media.
Justice Court Access Program
Justice Courts are the “People’s Courts” of Mississippi, handling small claims civil and misdemeanor criminal cases. The goals of the Justice Court Access Program (JCAP) are to establish best practices for Justice Court procedures in emergency situations like a pandemic, provide self-help resources for self-represented litigants in Justice Court, and create a virtual navigator program to assist Justice Court litigants throughout the state. The Mississippi Center for Justice will:
- Assess how Justice Courts transitioned to virtual court through surveys of all 82 Justice Courts in Mississippi;
- Compile the survey results and recommend uniform policies and procedures, along with standardized forms for self-represented litigants;
- Create resources for the court and self-represented litigants, including a training video for judges and court staff and self-help videos for self-represented litigants;
- Develop an online virtual court navigator; and
- Provide court and public awareness for the new resources
Appellate e-File Project
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia are developing an appellate electronic filing system for workers compensation cases. The project includes evaluating and identifying processes and business requirements to initiate document-based electronic filing; upgrading the current appellate case management system to support e-filing; reviewing and modifying court rules, as needed; and providing training and support. Primary benefits of automating workflows include speed and cost savings, convenience for filers, reducing court workload, instantaneous electronic access to court documents, and environmental impact.
Eviction Data Analysis and Accessibility
The Eviction Settlement Program (ESP) was created in June 2020 as a partnership between the City of Memphis, Tennessee, Shelby County, the Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk, Neighborhood Preservations, Inc., Memphis Area Legal Services, the University of Memphis School of Law’s Legal Clinic, among other local partners, to provide settlement funds and pro-bono legal representation to housing insecure tenants during the pandemic. NPI will improve court data management and accessibility to assist the Shelby County Courts, Memphis-area attorneys, litigants, and social service providers in navigating eviction proceedings during and beyond the pandemic. External data collection and analysis will support the courts and its legal partners in implementing and charting the impacts of the ESP. Through data sharing and systems-level analyses, the project will assist court staff, judges, pro-bono attorneys, and housing-insecure tenants in preparing for virtual proceedings, determining CARES Act eligibility of litigants, and examining the replicability of the ESP for post-pandemic court operations. NPI will:
- Develop an easy-access, interactive database that provides hearing information for litigants, and flags for the courts any properties awaiting proceedings that are protected from eviction under the CARES Act;
- Conduct an efficiency study of the current eviction case filing, hearing processes, and court operations in Shelby County; and
- Conduct an evaluation and cost-analysis of the ESP
The database will make it possible to more quickly access information about upcoming cases and triage which tenants need immediate representation. The virtual platform created by this project will be available in perpetuity – a valuable asset for post-pandemic court operations. The evaluation of ESP, as well as the efficiency study of eviction proceedings in Shelby County courts, will provide critical insights on how the courts may proceed with both pro-bono legal representation and eviction court proceedings following the pandemic.
Evaluation of Two Statewide Virtual Mediation Services Administered through Local Dispute Resolution Centers
The Michigan Supreme Court and State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) will evaluate two statewide virtual mediation services administered through local dispute resolution centers. The SCAO/Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) provides two statewide virtual mediation programs, which are administered through Local Dispute Resolution Centers. The services include: 1) the MI-Resolve online platform; and 2) online Zoom mediation. Both programs manage court referrals of small claims, landlord/tenant (including eviction), and general civil cases, and are administered through a statewide network of 17 Community Dispute Resolution Program (CDRP) centers. The evaluation will empirically demonstrate the effectiveness and national replicability of these two mediation programs.
Online Traffic and Misdemeanor Cases Pilot
The Municipal and Traffic Courts of New Orleans will be the demonstration site in Louisiana for the implementation of an online traffic and misdemeanor cases. With the assistance of the Justice Management Institute (JMI), the Court will:
- Develop procedures that address, case initiation, assignment, calendaring and noticing, appointment of attorneys, plea negotiation, hearings, orders, and judgments;
- Conduct a gap analysis and detailed technical specifications to build new tools for online case processing and virtual hearings as modules of the existing case management system; and
- Write locally customized technical specifications for defendant portals and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) for traffic and misdemeanor cases
Ohio Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Pilot Project
Currently, the Supreme Court of Ohio is piloting an ODR project focused on mediating foreclosure and eviction matters, and is seeking to expand to other case types. This will assist with the backlog of cases that has occurred due to the pandemic, Supreme Court orders and state legislation impacting court cases during the pandemic, and the CARES Act. In addition to evictions and foreclosures, local courts will focus on other case types, including small claims, contracts, and family matters. This project will support at least four ODR pilots and an evaluation component.
The project will include delivery of sustainable, educational products for sustainability, and continued expansion by sharing best practices statewide. Most importantly, additional ODR platforms in more case types will better serve self-represented litigants in resolving their cases remotely.
Improving Remote Access: Emergency Petition Email-Filing System
The Puerto Rico Office of Courts Administration will improve remote access through remote email-filing and videoconferencing for emergency petitions. Residents with access to a computer, tablet, or a smart phone will be able to:
- Request a restraining order under the Domestic Abuse Prevention Act and the Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence in Puerto Rico Act;
- Request to relocate minors outside of the jurisdiction and other urgent matters regarding family and juvenile affairs; and
- Request involuntary admission orders under the mental health code.
The Judicial Branch will develop case management interface features for the web-based application, including:
- A secure login feature to protect the petitioner’s personal information and index in one file all email linked to the petitioner;
- The record and classification of the petitioner’s information to develop statistical reports;
- A notification function for courts to quickly know a new petition has been filed; and
- Integration of the email-filing system with the Judicial Branch webpage. The project will include the development of three videoclips (Spanish, English and sign-language) and a web tutorial
Convert Court-led Live and In-person Training to On-Demand Training
The Arizona Superior Court in Pima County will transition employee-led, facilitated, in-person classroom courses to on-demand, online, and self-paced training. Starting first with the Court’s Family Center of the Conciliation Court (FCCC), the court will design, launch, evaluate and document the process and program effectiveness for transitioning FCCC’s mandated Parent Education courses from in-person trainings to an on-demand, virtual platform. On-demand, self-paced, court-originated parent education classes will increase enrollment by enabling parents the option to complete coursework as their schedule permits. By embedding on-demand parenting classes under the authority of the Court, judicial officers will have the ability to waive mandated class fees for those facing financial challenges.
Medical Debt Online Dispute Resolution
Medical debt is a national crisis confronting patients, health care providers, insurers, and guarantors of payment for medical services. The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is developing an online platform to resolve medical debt disputes starting in Hamilton County, Tennessee, and ultimately expanding to similar programs statewide. The goal of the project is to create an easy-to-understand application of how technology, legal assistance, meditation, and judicial resources as needed can provide a model for pre-court filing resolution services. The project will serve as a pilot for online dispute resolutions across the state in many areas of legal claims, in addition to medical debt.
Prefiling Landlord/Tenant Online Dispute Resolution
The Iowa Judicial Branch is implementing a prefiling landlord-tenant online dispute resolution (ODR) pilot in Story County, Iowa, to increase access to justice and effectively triage cases for residents involved in the rental housing market. In addition to the ODR platform, a Housing Coordinator will be hired to develop an inventory of community resources and housing assistance programs and provide legal information. The National Center for State Courts will provide support to the project and prepare a case study documenting lessons learned and make it available to other courts interested in Online Dispute Resolution in Landlord/Tenant cases.
Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Assessment
The Utah State Courts (the Courts) previously developed and continues to maintain an Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) tool for use with small claims cases in Utah. The ODR tool was developed in-house by IT staff at the Courts. The current project supports various enhancements to the ODR tool with respect to cybersecurity and adoptability of the code for use by other jurisdictions, enhancements to documentation, critical usability and accessibility features for users, and essential integration/interoperability updates with the Courts’ MyCase software. Ultimately, this project will ensure the Courts are able to successfully share the enhanced ODR tool with other states and prepare the resource for wide scale deployment. Additional funding for this project is provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Additional project-related support is provided by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).
Jury Orientation Video
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is producing a jury orientation video that will make jury duty and the court system more understandable and less daunting to prospective jurors. The 10–15-minute segmented video will address juror services that will be shown during jury orientation in magistrate and circuit courts. The video will also be made available online to the public as an educational tool to promote a better understanding of jury processes and the importance of access to a fair justice system.
Court Technology Assessment
The Akron, Ohio, Municipal Court is working with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to assist the Court with a technology assessment. The NCSC will assist in developing IT job descriptions, screening applicant resumes, and evaluating and making recommendations on candidates. The project will result in implementation of a new case management system that meets the needs of the Court, Clerk, and Probation, and provides redundancy and business continuity, in addition to new IT staff that will enhance services. A final report will be provided that reflects the strategic vision of the Court in determining what future needs will be required, such as bandwidth, network stability, and security.
Content, Programming and Collaboration to Facilitate Litigant Portal Project
The Alaska Court System is working with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to develop the content for a legal access portal. The project includes mapping every possible pathway a legal issue can take from both the plaintiff and defendant perspectives as well as converting existing self-help website and/or create new content in the appropriate format, so that it can be incorporated into the portal.
The portal will leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) to deliver highly individualized legal self-help. The portal’s personalized action plans will replicate the human staff-facilitated self-help assistance currently available on a limited basis. By automating self-help, these resources will be available 24/7 online to anyone.
Legal information and user interview questions will be developed for six case types: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking; Ending the Marriage; Custody/Parenting Plans Between Unmarried Parents; Child Support; Debt Collection; and Eviction. Additionally, the portal will recommend applicable linkages to various services, such as domestic violence services, housing, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and marriage counseling.
Using a Court Component Model to Help Courts Leverage Technology to Improve Court Operations and Customer Service
The Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) and National Association for Court Management (NACM) Joint Technology Committee (JTC), in partnership with the Court Chief Information Officers (CIOs), and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) are collaborating to develop the alternative – a component-based case management system (CMS) that allows for these technology solutions to be implemented independently with standards-based interfaces to support required interactions and workflows. This project will enable courts to better understand which technology components are available in the marketplace; identify the components currently needed to enable their courts to operate better; purchase and implement the most needed components at a competitive price; and implement the new components when and as needed without needing to replace anything else in the CMS.
Exploring Natural Language Processing Technologies to Support Court Operation
Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a field of computer science, artificial intelligence, and computational linguistics that employs predictive analysis and machine learning and focuses on the interaction between computers and both written and spoken language. NLP has become useful for a variety of legal tasks, most prominently as the primary technique employed in e-discovery to identify documented related to a specific query based on keywords or phrases.
The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) is exploring the use of NLP technology in the areas of triage of civil cases into appropriate case processing pathways; and quality control for high-volume dockets to ensure principals of procedural due process. For civil case triage, the NCSC is working with general jurisdiction courts that participated in the Civil Justice Initiative (CJI) automated civil case triage project to use NLP to identify and extract key terms and characteristics form the case pleadings, and develop a more robust triage model than was possible using a case management system. For quality control over high-volume documents, the NCSC is working with limited jurisdiction courts to identify inaccurate or missing information from case documents in consumer debt collection or other high-volume dockets that would signal the need for increased judicial review.