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At the start of the pandemic, we shared an edited version of our “Justice Know No Quarantine” webinar as a bonus podcast episode. During this episode, our industry veterans discussed the current challenges of civil and criminal courts, mitigation options that could be implemented in the short term and what Courts should be doing as we return to the new normal.

One year later, as we’ve transitioned from a physical court to virtual or limited in-person hearings, we continue to face challenges. While the pandemic has propelled Court technology improvements, those new improvements have created uncertainties around staff and funding, and the ever-looming question of “how do we catch-up the caseloads going forward?” while improving access to justice.

Listen in as one of our returning industry veterans Jim McMillan, Principle Technology Consultant at National Center for State Courts, sits down with our very own Brad Smith, Senior Justice Consultant, to discuss how not to just “throw money and throw bodies” at the problem but, rather, create a strategic plan while addressing:

  • Creative ways to address your court’s caseload catch-up plan
  • Court funding for staff and to maintain or upgrade technology
  • How technology-specific staff roles play an improved role in court technology
  • Taking technology solutions, like Zoom, Online Dispute Resolution, digital evidence management and artificial intelligence, to the next level

Available resources:

Court Technology Bulletin, https://courttechbulletin.blogspot.com/

Online Courtroom Project, https://www.onlinecourtroom.org/


Check out this episode!
Read the Transcript

 

Steve Glisky:

Welcome to the Paperless Productivity podcast, where we have experts give you the insight, know-how and resources to help you transform your workplace from paper to digital, all while making your work life better at the same time. 

Brad Smith:  

Hello, everyone. My name is Brad Smith and I’ll be your host for today’s podcast. Last April, we provided a bonus podcast episode of Justice Knows No Quarantine, which discussed the challenges that the pandemic would present to civil and criminal courts in 2020. In today’s episode, Jim McMillan, Principal Technology Consultant, the National Center for State Courts joins us a year later to discuss continued challenges, new technologies that evolve due to the pandemic and funding options in 2021 and beyond.  

 

Thanks for joining us today, Jim.  

Jim McMillan:

Thank you, Brad.  

Brad Smith:

To let the audience know, Jim and I have known each other for, oh, shoot over, over 25 years. I could say over 30, but that would just sound, sound wrong. And we’ve been talking quite a bit over the last two or three weeks about some of the challenges and some of the new things that, that that Courts are dealing with. And one of the things that popped up when it comes to the pandemic in courts opening up fairly recently is, is caseload catch-up. 

 

And I didn’t really understand that terminology that maybe the National Center has been using, but Jim, could you kind of describe that real quickly on, on what is being done and how the National Center may be able to address that with other courts? 

Jim McMillan:

Sure. Thanks, Brad. Yeah, we’ve got a big backlog. There’s a whole lot of cases that need to get done. 

 

So, we just have to get out there and figure out and be creative about how we’re going to address it. And we always say in the court world, you can throw money, or you can throw bodies at a problem. So, I’ve always worked with different, I’ve worked with different Courts down through the years and it was like, yeah, double the staff and the registry or the clerk’s office. 

 

 

But, you know, in this case we may actually have to do that. And that means that we have to look for funding as to how we’re going to pay for people to come and work. But we also need facilities. So, I did an article about two months ago where I was trying to figure out how would you approach the catch-up project, I would call it. So, you know the idea, first of course, as you got to estimate your workload, how much how many cases do you have to do. You know, what’s the complexity, how hard are those cases? What kind of resources are needed for those cases? So, you know, that’s a little bit of project planning and that’s appropriate in this case. 

 

 

And so now we’ve got to figure out, how much time and how much resources, you know, what type of people. So, can we maybe do a quick investment or do a contract before online dispute resolution, if there are simpler types of matters. And there’s also, if there are simpler types of matters, maybe there’s some court rules that you can use, you know, you can implement and change to speed things along, but if it’s  if you need judges, if you need bodies, then now we have to start looking at judge pro tems, volunteer attorney, judges, that sort of thing to come in and hear those matters. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you also have to find the facilities, find the place for them to hold their hearings. So perhaps some of that can be done online. That would be good. It makes it a lot easier. And hiring the local attorneys or an attorney from some other part of the state could be certainly done and might be easier to do that. 

 

But if you’ve got to bring them to the county seat to your courthouse, then that’s a whole another plan.  

 

Brad Smith:

Okay, quick question with that, you know, I know that you guys provide consultant services and certainly have done a lot of work with the IJIS Institute and the court’s advisory committee. Are you seeing that, I mean, during the pandemic that courts are reaching out to you that much more? Or has it been about the same? They’re their own little IT staffs are just scrambling to, to get people remote and set up for, you know, what you just described? 

Jim McMillan:

Well, there’s been a lot of conversation. I mean, there’s been a lot of training and a lot of discussions and lots of different people experimenting and trying things out. I’ve been a member not, not a super active member, but a member of the Online Courtroom Project out in California. And what’s been fascinating about that group is that it’s mostly trial technology consultants, assistants, you know, people that come in and, you know, in the old days would be facilitating the video playback or the you know, the, the PowerPoint slides and, you know, just basically holding the attorney’s hands with the technology. 

 

Now, of course, they’re doing all the online web conferencing and video and, you know, holding, making those things happen. So basically, serving as a technology courtroom clerk. So, that’s really been interesting because now we’re seeing a whole new job, well, you can say job position in, in the court. 

 

 

 

Some of those also are being done by courtroom staff, and court staff that are there coming in. But I haven’t really seen, I mean, the people in California are the ones that are coming in and they’re doing it on a contract basis for civil cases and a lot of, a lot of instances. So, you know, the thing is, is though we probably, now we need to start looking at making those positions permanent and having a formal personnel structure for all of those people, because I don’t think it’s going away. 

 

The online has got to be here forever and ever, and we just can’t pretend that the poor judges have to be able to run that. I mean, they actually have a full-time job, they’ve already had a full-time job. They don’t need that full-time job on top of what they’re doing. And you want the stuff to work. 

 

That’s why we need that staff and those people to work and make sure that the remote systems are working properly, that people can hear each other, you know, kind of important things. So that’s, that’s something that’s really been interesting to see develop over the last year was the, I don’t know that it actually existed before that. 

 

 

Brad Smith:

When it comes to Zoom, are you seeing certain things that that they’re utilizing it for? Is it you know, hearings? Is it probation? Is a guilty pleas? Is there a, some set best practice that that have been expressed to you?  

Jim McMillan:

Yeah, I think, I mean the obvious one, the easy one has been hearings, has been procedural hearings have been, you know, the straightforward stuff. 

 

That’s really attorney to judge and, and back. It’s when you start getting into the defendants and the clients that things started getting to be much

 

 

 

 

Jim McMillan:

more complex. And of course, the judge and the court is watching out for the rights of the people, of the participants, the parties in the case. So that’s where you get a lot more caution, which is appropriate for this sort of thing. 

 

So, but that’s find, because that’s a small percentage of what we do in the court, courtrooms every day, because we do so much procedural stuff. So that’s why it’s really perfect to do that online and why that’s not going away. It’s just really, really been fantastic how that all worked out. 

 

The other aspect of it that I’ve always said was that certain scientific evidence should have always been done on video. I always think it’s terrible to have the state crime lab scientists spend days waiting to testify in a, in a hearing matter when you’re there testifying on the procedure and the processes they use to determine the evidence. 

 

Well, that’s very straight forward. Everybody’s professional, you don’t need the magistery of the courtroom to get the, you know, the, the, the meaner and the truth out from the scientist, they’re fine. And they’re going to be able to go and do that. And, and, you know, be available, be working in the lab and only called to the courtroom when they’re needed on, on the web conference. 

 

So, I mean, all of that kind of stuff, we just have to be very intelligent and smart about how we’re doing things. Another one is oh, shall we say non-standard language interpretation. If you’ve got somebody that comes in with a language that’s not easily and not easy to fight in an interpreter in your location, then it makes perfect sense to do that on web conferencing. 

 

So, I mean, all of that kind of stuff, we just have to be very intelligent and smart about how we’re doing things. Another one is oh, shall we say non-standard language interpretation. If you’ve got somebody that comes in with a language that’s

 

not easily and not easy to fight in an interpreter in your location, then it makes perfect sense to do that on web conferencing.

 

And it’s much better to do it with web conference or with the video, because then the language interpreter can see the person can see them speak. Can that, you know facial interaction that a facial what can I say, how they, how they look, how they say things makes all the difference. So that’s where we can also be able to speed things along because we can get those, get access to those resources. 

Brad Smith:

Right. I think what what’s always been interesting is when you were talking about having more people on the technical side or specialists. We get into that situation as well, going to various locations and it’s always helpful. I’ll, I’ll have a sales engineer be in Austin, Texas, for example, and I’ll be in Nashville and we’ll be meeting with the client, but we’ve set up a, either a GoToMeeting or WebEx or Zoom and then we have the conversation and it’s, it’s always good to, as you were mentioning, just, just to be in person so you can see if they have a quizzical look. Or if, you know, if they’re kind of like raising their hand and they’re not quite sure if they should interrupt or not, you can quickly chime in. But you were mentioning, I think when we were talking the other day and to all our podcast listeners, one place to go, just to get really cool articles is a something that Jim puts together called the Court Technology Bulletin I highly recommend going to that location. I check it out all the time. I don’t tell Jim that not to make him feel so awesome, but it is, it is amazing stuff. But one of the things that you pointed out in, in one recent article was the psychology of being in person. And if you can kind of flush that out in a, in like a quick cliff notes version of what that article was about that that would be great. 

Brad Smith:

Everything you said about being in a courtroom. And I’ve been doing this for 32 years now, and I don’t care who you are, if you are in the courtroom setting and you’re there for particular proceeding. One of the amazing things I heard from judges was that they really liked ODR because they realized that it is intimidating, and they may not get a full response. 

 

And, but in an ODR setting, it allows individuals in the comfort of their own home to explain in detail what their issue is. And then have a dialogue back and forth where if you have literally a hundred people in what we would call a cattle call session in Texas, you, you certainly, you certainly don’t feel comfortable explaining your whole, your whole problem. 

 

And so, I think that that’s where technology certainly has a, has a way of working both ways. We were talking about earlier, when you mentioned funding and projects and how do we go about this? And I think you and I have discussed offline, you know, how do we go and look at different pricing? 

 

I think the term you used was case surge in funding, dynamic pricing in, in virtuous cycle. Could you explain what your thoughts are on that?  

Jim McMillan:

Yeah, I was looking at course, you know, we have a, we have a great opportunity with this COVID recovery funding that’s coming out of the state and the federal government to do things right now to go in and  retrofit in your court rooms or bring, you know, rebuild things, introduce all kinds of new technology. 

 

So that’s, that’s fun. That’s really great. Cause it’s, we’re going to have this one-time injection of funding. I hope, I think is what it looks like. But the problem is of course is, and we have to

Jim McMillan:

maintain the systems so sure we can go make a nice step up, nice jump. But then we have to maintain it. We got to have it be sustainable. 

 

So again, you know, you gotta pay for that technology, you gotta go and have the equipment fixed, you know, after a four or five years on your computers or your audio systems. So, the stuff just does not be once you pay for it does not stop the payments don’t stop. So, I started thinking about and reading about what other industries do. And they have these things called surge pricing. So, if you, we, I think we all know about a rush shipping. So, if you want something, you absolutely need to have it done that day, then you pay for it. We all know about being food delivery and that sort of thing. 

 

So, the thing is, is that, that I’ve never seen anybody actually do this, but I thought it’d be worthwhile to have the discussion. Is saying, okay I’ve got a last minute motion, I’ve really need to have this done now because there’s these, you know, X, Y, and Z problem. Then maybe there is a surge price. 

 

Maybe there’s an extra, you know, the surge fee to make sure that the clerk can be able to the court and the judge can be able to address it. Or we, or we add the resource that we were talking about earlier. So, I just think that there’s a way that things that we have not considered that other businesses do that is very common. 

 

Obviously, a rush shipping. That we really haven’t explored in the courts. And I think it’s worthwhile having that discussed and considered and of course, make lots of dividing lines. I’m not talking about you know, having the surge pricing to what can the, you deny somebody’s rights or, you know, discriminate between different people that

have some that has not. What I’m talking about is, you know, people that can afford that and need to do it. 

 

That maybe there’s a way for us to meet that customer’s, those parties, those attorney’s demands worth it’s worth a discussion thinking about.  

 

 

Brad Smith:

Well, and I think that the discussion part and unfortunately we would, we would do this at our court technology summits, which, you know, whether it be CTC, which is fine e-Courts, which is fine. I really felt when we did the court summit, when you had individuals from National Center, yet individuals from either IT professionals, CIO court administrators as well as vendors. All meet to discuss these certain issues. I personally felt like it was probably some of the best conversations, which has, you know, sometimes those conversations, I wouldn’t say heated, but I would say passionate. 

 

So, and I think that that’s one thing that we all need to accomplish as we keep moving forward during you know, 2021 in 2022. The other thing is with this new grant funding, which you were speaking of, a lot of locations, smaller courts, they don’t even know where to begin when it comes to at least getting the grant applications fulfilled or knowing where to start. 

 

Is there some place. Or is there some method that you’re using National Center, which people could, can get an eye on and, or at least a webpage or link that they can go to, to help themselves out?  

 

 

 

Jim McMillan:

Sure. There’s actually on my court technology bulletin blog, there’s a links section, linked to links toward the top. And there, we have the links back to the National Center’s standards. And we use the standards a lot in formulating our request for proposals and other planning documents. So, those are all really good. I also think that there’s projects like what Ohio is doing with technology grants coming down from the state. 

 

 

Jim McMillan:

So, and I remember other States, some other States were doing that as well, where, you know, there was like innovation grants to go out there and try and work give some funding to the local courts to move things forward. Of course, you know, Utah’s legal sandbox is the classic one going on right now where there creating a special legal entities that where people can try out innovative things. 

 

And it’s really fantastic. So that’s like the, some of the, the ODR, but now, as I say, the next generation of online dispute resolution some of which may have been prevented because of court rule or statute. Well, Utah’s out there experimenting with it. You know, they have to submit a plan and they don’t just get to do anything they want, but it gives them the area to go out and work and try those things out and even some funding. 

 

And that makes all the difference because you go out there and create new ways to provide services to people and improve their, improve their access to justice, which is one of the big key topic areas focuses. I think of most court systems nowadays as to looking for those opportunities and those abilities that improve that ability to access justice. 

 

Since I’m going to my access to justice thing, I’ll go and talk about that real quick. When the issue we’ve got with access to justice for the private world, the private side is that we have to really determine what’s going to be public access and what’s not going to be public access. Because you just can’t turn on all the court records out to the public. 

 

What we need to do is to determine and have a rule set and then build software and build, build technology around what can you search for what’s available to who? When is it available? Is there an ability to pull that data back? Or make it

 

 

Jim McMillan:

unavailable? There’s just so many questions that are out there and there’s answers, but we just need to get real serious about how we’re going to provide data to the researchers, to, the data providers, just all those types of things. 

 

And I just don’t know where the dividing lines are yet. And we just haven’t gotten into the, you know, haven’t made those decisions.  

 

 

Brad Smith:

Yeah. I, I know. I mean, as you know that, you know, in, in my past years I was working with a company that provided a redaction software. And one of the things, as you probably know as well, I mean, Florida is probably one of the more strict locations when it comes to public records and Manatee County put up their records on their website as a test project, almost a pilot for the state of Florida. And one of the unique ways that they provided their access to the information, which, which would require redaction is they would show kind of the docket index, someone would go in and they would do search. It would go to a law clerk in terms of a workflow. 

 

The law clerk would then run it through the redaction software and then post it. So it wouldn’t be immediate. But the access to that information would get to them within a day or so. And then the next time someone requested that same document from that same case, then it would be available on the web because it’s already gone through the process. 

 

So, it was a way of kind of being a compromise between the, between the two worlds of access to justice, as well as privacy and public records.  

 

 

Jim McMillan:

Oh, I think it’s the latter. We’ve got to definitely deal with it from right now, what I’ve seen is most courts that I’ve seen have given up, they’re just basically letting you know, the police have their body cam video systems, which are out on the cloud and they’re letting them manage all of that. Now we do get clips. And one of the things that I’ve been wanting to do is to apply a digital signature. 

Jim McMillan:

So, you have a technician and technician has, you know, 10 hours of body cam video that came down from apex or one of the body cam video, web cloud systems. So, but you really only need like two minutes of it for that particular event. All we need to do is have the ability for the technician to do the clip and then digitally sign it. 

 

And that’s what I want as the court, I don’t want the other nine hours and 50 minutes or 55 minutes. I want to close, and I want it signed. So that then when it goes to court of appeals and then the Supreme Court, and then the US federal courts, all those things are all in that piece of evidence of digital evidences is assigned piece of, of data. 

 

And so, I’ve got an article on my blog about how Brazil does some of this for other documents. So, Brazil has had a digital signature capability since around 2009. So, if you go to my blog type in Brazil and go take a look at the article, because it’s actually quite interesting as to how that’s how they do stuff. 

 

And because I had Brazilian judges coming to visit. And so, I, that’s why I stumbled on it. Cause I stumbled on one of the judges and I looked up, looked her up and there was, you know, some of her decisions. And that we’re all digitally signed. And so, I asked them about it and they said it was working great. 

 

So, those are things that, you know, there’s all these pieces that still needed to be put together.  

 

 

 

 

Brad Smith:

There is a product out there, and you might want to take a look at a Jim it’s called iNPUT-ACE, which allows people, a fantastic product and what it is, is it’s more or less a, an editing tool for video management. 

 

Not only for the courts, don’t get me wrong. I mean, but it’s also for the law enforcement and public defenders, prosecuting attorneys, where, as you mentioned, you could be looking at hours and hours of video, and yet the perpetrator only and, or the, the offense only occurred during a five minute window.  

 

 

Jim McMillan:

How much, how much Dunkin Donuts purchases can you watch?  

Brad Smith:

Absolutely, absolutely. It’s what ends up doing is it allows them to go in and, and make the edits and then package it up as a part of discovery and to be shared with all parties involved.  So, take a look at that when you get a chance to iNPUT-ACE and eight. 

 

And they do go through an amazing process of ensuring, you know, with hashmarks and hashtags that you know, that this is the true version, because of course you’re going to get public defenders or private attorneys that are on the defense side that will try to challenge the authenticity of that particular video. 

 

And it’s, it’s amazing. So please, please do take a look at it. One of the last things that you and I had discussed, and I’m probably add one more just because that’s who I am is you were even bringing up AI speech to text ODR. Now don’t get me wrong. I haven’t dealt with judges with aiSmartBench and judicial dashboards more than a few times, I would get people saying, “hey, wouldn’t it be great that if” I can look for, you know, a much emotion that discussed slip and fall cases, blah, blah, blah, and a sense of just verbally requesting it versus having to use natural language, searching with Westlaw or Lexis, or even bullying searching if they were old school. 

 

Jim McMillan:

I mean, there are answers to this stuff. But it does take a lot of computing power, which is why AI is just requires these huge datasets. So, the other thing that I just wanted to throw out there that Brad, we talked about a couple of weeks ago. Everybody’s always worried about accents about Accents from Boston or from Georgia. 

 

And what’s really funny is that my friends that are in this area have pointed out that Georgia accents have been used to train the AI for the speech recognition. So, the test was Senator Sam Nunn from Georgia. And that so you can play Senator Sam Nunn speech from whatever it was in the Senate. 

 

And it does a great job because it’s been trained to understand Sam Nunn. So, accents, it can deal with accents, it’s just a matter of the training set.  

Brad Smith:

Well, there you have it. I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time in Louisiana and now, you know, of course they always call me a Yankee, but that’s fine. But you know, their accents are fairly strong as well. I know that they create a knowledge base when they’re doing the AI situation which, you know, it has to be very solid, I imagine. 

Jim McMillan:

Exactly. 

Brad Smith:

One last thing, Jim. I was going to, because we had mentioned Zoom and new technology. I have seen as, as we were kind of talking about certain companies and certain really interesting next level approaches a company called Filo.co, so that’s F I L O. And you, you may have met one of the individuals, Doug Rybacki who used to work at Lexus Nexus.  

Jim McMillan:

Oh, sure.

Brad Smith:

Yeah. And yeah, Doug is fantastic. But what they ended up doing is their product takes the Zoom to the next level where it creates rooms, security bound rooms, where a judge and, or a prosecuting slash district attorney and a public defender and a probation office all could be participating. And yet in negotiating with judges in a secure manner. So, it’s just taking it to the next level, which I think is fantastic. Have you seen things like that as well, where it’s, it’s a fairly common technology, but there’s someone else that does that special twist? Maybe you may have seen it with Utah? 

Jim McMillan:

I saw it in Texas where they started to use the breakout rooms functionality in Zoom and other, the other conferencing companies are, are jumping onto that too. Because you know, you want to have a control, but also have the ability to do the breakout and and go ahead and have the private conversations. 

 

So, yeah, no, that’s a really fantastic thing because now you you’re providing multiple channels for people to have discussion and, and present and share information. Yeah, we’re just going to see more and more development in those areas. Which is going to be fantastic.  

 

Brad Smith:

Well, Jim, you know, thank you once again, I I’ve taken up way more than your, your time that you were going to give us, and I appreciate that so much. 

Jim McMillan:

Thank you, Brad.  

Brad Smith:

For our listeners, be sure to review the podcast show notes for resource materials and to download this podcast episode. If you’d like to learn more about ImageSoft, please visit our website at imagesoftinc.com.

 

This concludes this podcast. Take care and have a great day. 

Steve Glisky:

Thanks again for joining us on this podcast. To learn more about ImageSoft, please visit imagesoftinc.com. That’s ImageSoft I-N-C.com. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity, where we capture some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.