Massachusetts courts need a tech upgrade, but one that puts transparency first.
Technology has always been a double-edged sword, but the court officials who will ultimately determine how the next-generation system operates should tilt those
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not the disruption courts wanted, but it is the disruption courts needed,” the National Center for State Courts said in its report, “Guiding Principles for Post-Pandemic Court Technology.” It provided a chance, the report noted, “to re-imagine and embrace new ways of operating and to transform courts into a more accessible, transparent, and user-friendly branch of government. Institutional inertia should not end this transformation once the pandemic passes.”
The National Center for State Courts on Wednesday announced roughly a dozen courts nationwide had won grants to implement an experimental eviction diversion program. The Wells Fargo Foundation provided $10 million for the project, of which the Lawrence Township Small Claims Court received nearly $500,000.
The Wells Fargo Foundation announced Wednesday a $10 million grant to the National Center for State Courts to give out to states to strengthen eviction diversion efforts and the District will get $605,847 as of its allocation.
The grant was unveiled at the Historic DC Courthouse in northwest Washington. The District is a beneficiary of the grant with eight other states.
The National Center for State Courts shared that they've received a donation from The Wells Fargo Foundation to expand their Eviction Diversion Initiative.
The grant program supports state and local courts across the country as they build on pandemic-era programs and practices to permanently change their eviction dockets through diversion programs and related court reforms, according to their website.
D.C., along with a number of other states, will feel the effects of the new funds, including improved court processes in an effort to build "stronger communities and see fewer evictions."
A report from the National Center for State Courts sheds light on how effective remote hearings have been. It notes that although they take longer than in-person proceedings, largely due to technological difficulties, remote hearings ultimately improve access and help more people.
As a result of what's been learned, the court has taken an intelligent technology approach to solving pandemic and backlog issues. To continue its innovative work and offer more competitive compensation, state court officials seek a reasonable 2.8% budget increase for 2023.
Judicial branch leaders are asking for a $21.47 million budget increase for 2023, or 2.79% above the two-year current total budget of $768.6 million. Most of that hike — about $17.7 million — is for salaries and benefits. It would increase pay for judges by 6% and boost the compensation pool for other court staff by 6%. The court system employs 320 judges and 2,500 other staff.
According to the National Center for State Courts, pay for Minnesota judges ranks 20th nationally compared to other states.
Many state courts have had surprising success accessing federal pandemic relief funds to help reduce case backlogs, court leaders say, but with none of that money earmarked for judiciaries, courts have had to be assertive about asking for it.
"Courts were in a sense having to request that money — or beg for that money — from governors' offices or legislators," said David Slayton, vice president of court consulting services for the National Center for State Courts.
Two months after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis in May 2020, as protests erupted around the country, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators adopted a resolution that said structural racism disproportionately affects people of color and erodes public confidence in the fairness of the judicial system.
Edwin Bell, a longtime court administrator in Georgia, was named director of racial justice, equity and inclusion at the National Center for State Courts in 2020.
“Part of the challenge is an awareness of the lack of diversity and what the ways are to address it,” Bell said. “We’re not advocating for a quota system in any way, shape or form, but we do want to identify best practices.”
Technology can be a mixed bag. A recent study from the National Center for State Courts examined the use of remote hearings in courts in eight counties across Texas.
The research concluded that remote proceedings take about a third longer than in-person hearings. This was largely due to technology-related issues and a lack of preparation by participants. However, the study also found that remote proceedings take longer because more litigants can easily attend and participate in hearings.
Eleventh Circuit Administrative Judge Jennifer Bailey, who helped design Florida’s first remote jury trial, praised the findings.
“We all owe Texas and the National Center for State Courts a debt of gratitude for this study,” Judge Bailey said. “People who couldn’t take off work, who didn’t have transportation, who didn’t have childcare, could participate in court for the first time and, as a result, we’re probably getting better justice in many different ways.”
Hecht said a recent National Center for State Courts survey found state courts have an approval rating of just 64%, down from a 76% approval rating in 2018.
“Here is the scary thing,” Chief Justice Hecht said when asked if the justice system provides justice to all, 47% said “no” and another 7% didn’t have an opinion.
A first-of-its-kind study by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) surveyed judges on the impact of remote proceedings on courts and court users. Eight Texas jurisdictions and 52 judges tracked their judicial time and provided qualitative data on the benefits and disadvantages of remote hearings.
Remote hearings have improved access to justice in many cases and made it easier to attend hearings for rural litigants, families, and lower-income individuals. However, the digital divide has presented some resistance.
Backers of remote trials — including judges, consultants and academics – argue that remote options improve participation overall, especially for potential jurors who don't have the time to spend days in a courtroom or don't have a convenient way to get there.
This is not only important for the public's perception of justice, says Paula Hannaford-Agor, but juries with varying backgrounds bring a wider range of experience to the jury pool. She is the director of the Center for Jury Studies at the National Center for State Courts.
Remote court hearings take about one-third (34%) longer than in-person hearings, according to a study by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) on the impact of remote hearings on courts and court users.
In addition to hearing length, NCSC shared several key findings relating to the pros and cons of remote hearings, its impact on judicial well-being, and recommendations for the future of remote proceedings.
FACT SHEET: The White House and Department of Justice Announced 99 Law Schools in 35 States and Puerto Rico Continue to Answer the Attorney General’s Call to Action for Stronger Access to Justice and Court Reform on Eviction Prevention
On June 24, 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration announced initiatives to promote housing stability and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta sent a pathbreaking letter to state courts encouraging them to immediately establish eviction diversion programs and directing them to federal resources and the National Center for State Courts diversion tool. State Supreme Courts in Michigan, Indiana, and Texas adopted statewide eviction diversion programs, along with jurisdictions in 31 states.
Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr. and Justice Tamika R. Montgomery- Reeves released the “Improving Diversity in the Delaware Bench and Bar Strategic Plan.” The National Center for State Courts and the non-profit AccessLex Institute worked on the 101- page report. “The Strategic Plan provides tangible steps that will have a real and lasting impact,” said Delaware State Bar Association President Kathleen Miller.
Even if a judge sentences someone convicted of a crime to pay zero dollars in fines, their court costs — outside of paying for legal assistance — can reach $1,000 or more. Local prosecutors usually recommend jail or probation, and not fines, for people who have committed a crime, says Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski. But court costs still quickly add up for people convicted of crimes across Wisconsin and have increased over the past two decades, according to a 2018 report by the Wisconsin Director of State Courts Office and National Center for State Courts.
The first remote hearings were held in the '80s with closed-circuit television, and e-filing has been accepted by some courts since the late '90s. But evolution has been uneven, as Jim McMillan of the US National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Virginia, explains: “the willingness of courts to change is often greatly affected by their customers – the legal professionals – and the tech industry that serves them.”
State Rep. Jon Jacobsen, R-Council Bluffs, is seeking to establish specialty probate courts in Iowa. “Without an appropriation to fund the two associate probate judge positions required to create the new probate courts, two district associate judges currently hearing cases would need to be reassigned,” said Iowa Judicial Branch Communications Director, Steve Davis. “According to calculations using the workload formulas developed by the National Center for State Courts, the Iowa Judicial Branch is currently short 16 district associate judges based on the state’s caseload."