Washtenaw, Michigan, a Top 10 Digital County, is no stranger to The Paperless Productivity Podcast, so it’s our pleasure to welcome back Jeff Arbogast, Application Specialist for the esteemed Washtenaw County, to chat about their OnBase-powered, electronic arraignment process. 

In this to-the-point episode, Jeff talks us through the multi-faceted “eArraignment” process as it relates to both walk-in and pre-scheduled proceedings, case preparation from the Clerk’s perspective, and workload balance for the Judge. As you’ll hear, Jeff notes how eArraignment, complete with digital signatures and workflow, has supported Washtenaw County through the pandemic thanks to instantaneous, digitally streamlined deliveries of arraignment packets and other documentation to defendants, probation officers, jails, prosecutors’ offices, etc. And with the county’s printers connected through “auto print,” the Clerk can, in addition to emailing or digitally sending the documentation, print carbon copies at any county office printer – eliminating the need to fax and the consequential deterioration of signatures and images.  

Fueled by the perfect blend of digital workflows, electronic signatures and forms, and centralized case management, Washtenaw easily established an efficient, routine eArraignment protocol that reduces the need for widespread human contact (digital workflow as opposed to a courier, and less foot traffic in the courthouse), and significantly lightens the Clerk’s workload post-arraignment.  

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.

Steve Glisky:

Thanks for joining us. My name is Steve Glisky your host and today we’re going to be talking with Washtenaw County about their e-arraignment solution. Washtenaw has been recognized many times as a top 10 digital county. The county seat is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and today’s special guest is Jeff Arbogast, application specialist with the County. Welcome Jeff.

Jeff Arbogast:

Thank you Steve. Let’s go ahead and get started.

Steve Glisky:

Hey Jeff. So tell me what were some of the challenges you were experiencing conducting arraignments with paper?

Jeff Arbogast:

So when you don’t have a digital process you have to, one, bring everybody into the courtroom and that isn’t just the people being arraigned, it’s also the people that want to watch the arraignments because it is an open court proceeding, and so needs to be accessible to the community. When you arraign high-value people that can cause some issues depending on who wants to come and view the arraignments, even when it’s digital. But definitely the separation of the defendant, the magistrate, and the crowd definitely adds some safety, and it definitely can reduce complexity when you have a digital component to it.

Jeff Arbogast:

Another issue is all the paperwork is going to be blank when you just bring everybody into the courtroom and don’t have additional process, you’re going to have to hand write or type everything out, and then you’re going to have to pass it around for signature. With the digital process, it’s a little bit easier to do, especially when you have a signature pad set up for the defendant.

Steve Glisky:

Understand. So case preparation is fairly intense then as far as having to write out on those carbon copy forms.

Jeff Arbogast:

Yeah. And then when it’s written, it’s harder to understand, or if you’re waiting for them to do this with all the same information on, and it’s going to take longer digitally, and then printing out to sign, instead of signing digitally. So having a full workflow created for this can save some time and increase some efficiency. I do know that a couple of times they weren’t able to use the digital process and had to use the paper process. They really wanted the digital process back.

Steve Glisky:

So, hey Jeff, I know a lot of counties they’ll run their arraignment process with paper, but they’ll also use video technology to do a video remit. That introduces problems doesn’t it, when you’re working in a paper environment?

Jeff Arbogast:

When you’re working in a paper environment, either you have to have somebody courier, or somebody run the paperwork down to be signed, or you’re using a fax machine. You know every time you fax something, the quality of the image goes down. So you end up with a much lower quality image with the finished product if you’re faxing it back and forth for signatures. Plus you’re creating a lot more paper waste.

Steve Glisky:

A lot of copies, it opens up the possibility for not having the right copy and errors. So having a fully electronic solution can improve the integrity quite a bit.

Steve Glisky:

Can you tell us a little bit more about your e-arraignment solution for how you handle in custody and then walk-in arraignments?

Jeff Arbogast:

Actually just about every aspect of arraignments is handled now through OnBase and even the stuff before with a warrant request from the prosecutor’s office. Some of our magistrates even sign the warrants in OnBase so that they can be executed. After that, when the person is arraigned, and e-form is created in OnBase, and that includes a place where they can pick the forms that need to be generated for the arraignment. They update the information all in one place in that e-form, and then they update that paperwork whenever they change the e-form. That way they have one clear copy of the document with everything being put into one place, you’re not duplicating anything, and it makes it a lot easier because every time you duplicate something, you can make a mistake. Copy and paste will take longer. That will eliminate your mistakes, but it’s a lot easier if you can do it in one place, a wizard and have a copy out.

Jeff Arbogast:

Also on our public defender’s side, we have in-house developed an arraignment system for them, since the court was already using OnBase and the prosecutors were already using OnBase, they got to be able to pull up the charging documents from the state charged, county charged, prosecutor’s office, and also pull up any bond recommendation forms in there. We set up some forms for them to be able to create themselves so that they can better defend their witnesses. I mean, not witnesses, their defendants. My apologies.

Jeff Arbogast:

For walk-in arraignments though, we now have a second workflow set up with load balance for each courtroom in each magistrate, to be able to do the arraignments when they happen in the courtroom, along with the other judges. We’re introducing them to this also. One of our magistrates over at 14B Mark Nelson uses the new workflow we created, quite a bit, and it seems to help him out because he does just about all of his arraignments by Zoom now because of the pandemic. We have set up so that if he includes an email address in the arraignment e-form, it will email the arraignment packet to the defendant so that they can get their copies that way and get them quickly, as soon as the arraignment is over.

Steve Glisky:

Very good. After the arraignment has been completed, the distribution of the file, it needs to go to a number of different places. How does that work with your solution?

Jeff Arbogast:

So we’ve got auto print set up anywhere that’s in the network and with the county, both the county and the city of Ann Arbor share the same network that though have sub-networked everything out, we can still, with our trust in the domains, see their printers so that we can print stuff to individual printers for them.

Jeff Arbogast:

For example, the city of Ann Arbor in the county, both jointly run Metro Dispatch, but it’s in the city of Ann Arbor building, we can still print everything that needs to go to dispatch and be entered into lien to dispatch. The municipalities that do not use it, some of them still use fax, but others we have auto email set up, so that that information can be sent via email instead of via fax so that everybody can get their information.

Jeff Arbogast:

Community corrections also gets their orders sent auto printed to them. They can also look them up on OnBase if they need to, as can Metro Dispatch, et cetera. So that there’s a lot less faxing and a lot less work for the clerk to do after the arraignments are over.

Steve Glisky:

Okay, terrific. So how about signing? You’re signing the arraignment packet as well, electronically, both the magistrate and the defendant?

Jeff Arbogast:

So the magistrate and the defendant sign them if the arraignment is taking place in the jail. We have a second way that the Supreme Court of the State has authorized to be okay, called Advised Under The Record, which we created a signature that says that and TrueSign for them to place for the defendant’s signature if they are arraigned over Zoom. But that could be something we could use the new TrueSign in the future to do, but we haven’t had time to implement any of that yet.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Now arraignment is unique because you’re dealing with a packet of documents and the different forms that you use, depend on the types of charges that were authorized. So your system, as far as where to sign, and is it easy to incorporate different forms based on the charge?

Jeff Arbogast:

I’ve had to add some forms. The current system does have a little bit of difficulty with that, but once you get it mapped, you only have to map the template once. Once it’s mapped in, in the system, you’re set to go. Anytime that the form changes, you’ll either have to change that form or remap a new form. That doesn’t happen all too often but when it does, it does take a little bit of effort to get in there.

Steve Glisky:

Yeah.

Jeff Arbogast:

But that’s basically the same as having to order a bunch of new printouts for this new bond form or this new community corrections order, that it would be if it was paper.

Steve Glisky:

All right. So you can self-administrate the system and add a form if you need to. But that doesn’t happen too often. My question was more if during an arraignment, if they wanted to add a form?

Jeff Arbogast:

If they wanted to add a form during arraignments, that’s really easy because there’s a drop down TrueSign where they can add forms to it, to the packet.

Steve Glisky:

That’s good. So what are the benefits? We touched on a couple of them, it streamlines the packet creation and the signing process, has it made your court and jail, more efficient? Anything else that you want to elaborate on?

Jeff Arbogast:

They seem to like the process, because as long as everything’s working the way that it should, everybody gets their copies. They don’t have to do the extra work of faxing out to different places after they’re done. If they put an email address in, if the defendant has an email address, will automatically get things emailed. Whether it’s in the jail or not, they now ask for the email address and that works out pretty well, as long as they type it incorrectly. So it’s a way to quickly get the forms done. Quickly get them out to the different places that need them and that’s definitely increased efficiency because the clerks don’t have as much to fax out when they’re done. They still have a few here and there, especially for the jurisdictions that don’t use our dispatch, but it’s definitely improved things I think.

Steve Glisky:

So with this pandemic and working in Zoom, and doing things remotely, having your arraignment process be digitized like that, I’m sure is a big benefit to the court.

Jeff Arbogast:

It has been a big benefit because like I said, at least I know Magistrate Nelson has been doing all his quote unquote walk-in arrangements via Zoom and I know some other courts have been too, and they’ve just been using some of the jail arraignment stuff, and have started using the new workflow also. They have even set some forms up. We’ve created some unity forms to be placed on the website so that the defendant can submit their advice of rights that way. Also, people on probation, they’re able to submit their probation reports via OnBase for the probation team to look at it, et cetera, so they don’t have to come in. We’ve been able to decrease contact and decrease the number of people coming into our courts, whether it’s for arraignments or other things by utilizing OnBase in different ways.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Terrific. So you’re publishing a lot of these forms out onto your website. They’re able to fill them out and when they submit them, it’ll go right into your OnBase workflow for processing.

Jeff Arbogast:

Yep. We’ve also done the same for public defender.

Steve Glisky:

Okay. Hey, terrific. Now, are there any other plans, new plans for your district court going forward to further enhance your workflow?

Jeff Arbogast:

I’m not sure what’s next on the table yet. I do have an OnBase upgrade coming up. I’m in the middle of a database, migration, but I do know that the court does want to add things to OnBase, especially as they are on one of the later phases for MiFile, but they’d rather have as much as possible in place on our in-house system, instead of relying on the state system and processes, and having to adapt to those.

Steve Glisky:

Very good. Jeff, it’s been a wonderful discussion. Really appreciate you being on the call today. Thank you so much.

Jeff Arbogast:

No problem, Steve. Thank you.

Steve Glisky:

For our listeners, we appreciate you downloading this podcast. Thank you 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.