A Judicial System in Crisis?

Two weeks ago, the Detroit Free Press ran a story detailing a recent review (report card of sorts) of Detroit’s 36th District Court. This review, conducted by the National Center for State Courts, describes a “judicial system in crisis — with a projected budget overrun in the millions and unacceptable delays in cases — and concludes the court may need new leadership to pull it out of the financial mess.” Elisha Anderson & Gina Damron, Report: Detroit’s 36th District Court in crisis, over budget, hurting public, Detroit Free Press (8:30 am, May 24, 2013).

The alleged problems contributing to the Court’s poor review include “long lines to pay fines and fees and get court assignments; case backlogs; and ‘rampant’ no-shows by police officers and defendants in criminal cases, as well as parties in civil matters.” Id. To be fair, however, the 36th District Court, which handled more than 1.1-million cases in 2012 and juggles 65,000 phone calls and 160,000 people conducting business monthly, is the busiest in the state and is a victim, like so many other public services, to Detroit’s deepening financial woes.

Among several criticisms of the Court came this:

The Court has not fully utilized its information technology infrastructure and needs to expand its reliance on technology to conduct its business in a more streamlined fashion. Such antiquated structures and operating designs seriously limit the ability of the Court to reduce its operating costs.

The review at p. 3. The review then offers suggestions of how the Court could more effectively use technology, including: Fast tracking e-citation programs, maximizing the use of Judicial Information Systems (“JIS”), integrating IT systems with local partners, and by advancing court employee’s tech education. Id. at 18-19.

A lot of this stuff (e-filing, education, maybe even social media) may seem novel, but for the Court and the people it serves, technology, or lack thereof, seems to be having a real effect on the administration of justice.

Whether or not the funding is available to implement the upgrades necessary to improve the Court’s efficiency is a whole other story. Regardless, it will be interesting to track the 36th District Court’s progress and see what effect, if any, IT has on the Court’s processes.


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