Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan Courts Using Technology to Bring their Services to the People
It is nothing new or shocking to say that U.S. courts are behind the times when it comes to incorporating technology into their processes. This has caused not only an increase in the number of backlogged cases, but also an increase in court users’ dissatisfaction with their experience. But more and more courts are working to correct this issue. In just the last few months, Cuyahoga County, Cook County, and Michigan have taken steps to introduce more technology into their courts, removing barriers that many litigants face, especially those who represent themselves.
Last fall, Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court—which handles child support and custody, separation and divorce, and domestic violence and restraining order cases—launched their free CourtConnect app through which users can receive push notifications that tell them when documents in their case are filed or due, and when hearings are scheduled or postponed. Parties can also access the court’s docket, monitor their court costs and fees, and even make payments. Judge Francine Goldberg led the app’s development and believes that “[t]hrough technology and innovation, we’re helping families navigate the legal system and conserve their resources, and also providing easy access to important information about Domestic Relations Court.”
Last month, the Cook County Circuit Courts in Illinois launched a pilot program in three of their divisions in which individuals will be allowed to appear for cases remotely. Two judges from each of the divisions will oversee the use of remote video in their courtrooms in cases involving contested mortgage foreclosure and mental health proceedings, among other matters. With a mind toward increasing access for all litigants, Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans noted, “As we look at ways to enhance access to justice in civil cases, video appearances will allow litigants to agree to participate in court in a convenient way.”
And just a few days ago, the Michigan Supreme Court adopted amendments to court rules that will explicitly allow cellphones and other electronic devices in courthouses and courtrooms. The new policy allows the use of these devices for “retrieving or storing information, accessing the internet, and sending or receiving text messages as long as the user is silent,” in addition to “reproducing court documents as long as it leaves no marks and does not unreasonably interfere with the operation of the clerk’s office.” A major reason behind this change was the compelling testimony they heard that cellphone access was essential to self-represented litigants.
Each of these three technological expansions within the courts align with IAALS’ Eighteen Ways Courts Should Use Technology to Better Serve Their Customers, in which we examine ways that existing technologies can be leveraged to improve court users’ experiences. In fact, the first three of those recommendations include enabling customers to obtain information and services using their smartphones, enabling customers to present information using their smartphones in the courtroom, and enabling customers to appear in court by video conference. Most courts around the country may still be behind the times with incorporating technology, but the progress shown by these three courts in just the last few months provides us with hope that courts are starting to catch up.