“We can’t let perfection get in the way of a good system,” said Scott Bade, ImageSoft President and Product Visionary. “Today, we need to look for easy wins that move data forward, even if, for the time being, the method isn’t as integrated, end-to-end or wholesome as we’d like it to be.” 
This sentiment from Scott is a soundbite from our April 2020 webinar, “Justice Knows No Quarantine” with Jim McMillan from the National Center for State Courts. Scott, Jim and Senior Justice Consultant Brad Smith hosted a panel discussion addressing the current challenges of civil and criminal courts, mitigation options that can be implemented in the next 45 days or less, what courts should be doing as we come return to a new normal, and how to overcome procurement obstacles when moving forward with these opportunities. The key message? “The mobile society that we have become has led to added bandwidth that is paying off now,” said Scott, adding that the Justice System needs to prepare for the new normal of more people working and managing their business remotely. 

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[expand title=”Read Transcript”]
Kevin Ledgister: Welcome to the Paperless Productivity podcast where we have experts give you the insights, knowhow, and resources to help you transform your workplace from paper to digital and making your work life better at the same time.

Thanks for joining us. My name is Kevin Ledgister, your host. And today’s podcast will be a little different. Recently, ImageSoft hosted the webinar panel for the justice industry, and we wanted to bring a slightly edited recording of this to you. There’s no question that this current crisis has made it difficult for many courts to even carry out basic functions. So we’ve assembled a panel of industry veterans who could speak to what courts can do today, and also what the new normal may look like coming out of this.

We’re going to cover a range of topics. So let’s jump right in where I’m introducing the panelists. So let me go ahead and introduce our speakers for today. So, first of all, we have Jim McMillan, who is the Jrincipal Technology Consultant from the National Center for State Courts. Jim has been with the NCSC since 1990, but we kindly asked that you don’t do the math so that you don’t age him.

And a second, we also have Scott Bade, who is with ImageSoft. And he’s our President and Product Visionary. And he’s constantly thinking of innovative ways as to how technology can solve court’s challenges. And then we also have Brad Smith with ImageSoft. Who’s a Senior Justice Consultant. And he’s been around since the e-Filing emerged from the primordial soup and he has a Rolodex that stretches to the moon and back. And many of you guys probably know him. So welcome gentlemen to this webinar.

Jim McMillan: Thanks, Kevin.
Kevin: Yes, thank you. You guys are probably on mute. So as I started out, and just so everybody knows this panel discussion is going to be in a discussion format. So you may hear different people that are going to be contributing to the subject matter at hand. So as I started out, we’re in unchartered territory. And courts are still scrambling with emergency measures to make things work. And so, Jim, I’ll start up with you and pose this question to you. What are some things that courts can be doing in the next 45 days?
Jim: Sure. We always have to start out with trying to, as they say, stop the bleeding is a terrible analogy, but you do have to do first things first. So the thing about the courts is that we are the hub for communication, and we have to turn that back on. And since paper is not going to be allowed to be in communication, then we have to use another method. So we’ll go back to the good old try them through email as one suggestion. And so as a stop gap… and I actually saw an example from an office. I think it was Tarrant County in Texas today that we’re talking about an emergency marriage certificates.

And so they’ve actually set up an email box on Gmail to be able to accept the form for an emergency marriage. So I thought that was quite interesting, but they followed the idea of having just one of the public email boxes. Now, one of the good things about outlook.com or Gmail is that they have really, really good spam inside virus filtering protection. Now that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to check the spam box on those services, but they will do a lot to protect you saving a corrupted documents. So that’s an important part.

But if you’re going to use a service like that, you may have to give suggestions for large attachment filings. And so there’s usually… You have to have a rule that says you should keep your documents under one megabyte or smaller. And if you can’t, then you should post them some place in one of the file services out there so that they can be downloaded. We finally actually started with an email service in the country of Austria in 1989. So we’re just embracing the past since it worked.

Kevin: That’s awesome. And Jim, I know that you would also look at a couple other things and have some thoughts on some other tools that, from a mobile perspective, how we can capture those documents. People don’t have a scanner, those types of things. I think you’ve talked about… You mentioned in a previous discussion about something like an office lens smartphone app or something like that. Can you just touch on that for a moment?
Jim: Yeah. There’s some really great apps that work on smartphones. And I did some searching back a few years ago when I read a report from the public defenders in, I think it was New York State. And they were complaining that they didn’t have scanners. So I said, why do you need a scaner? You can just get your smartphone out, your iPhone or your Android smartphone. And there’s a lots and lots of apps that will go, and you can take a picture of the document and it will straighten it out and it will turn it into a PDF.

And then you can automatically connect it to your email or your storage solution, Dropbox or any of the other ones are out there, and it works great. I use it all the time. And I think a lot of more people are used to doing this since now we have the mobile deposit your check type of application is another one that’s there. It’s a really fancy one. They actually have OCR capability if you want. So yeah, there’s some really great apps out there. But I use the Microsoft Office lens. It’s worked very well for me.

So that was number that was the number one there. And then the other thing is that, if you’re on the receiving end in the court side, or you’re receiving him as a party to a case, you might just go ahead and look at the possibility of using what’s called a PDF binder, a tool, so that you can put all the documents related in the court file into one file. And of course this makes it very easy for the judge to download because it’s all PDF. And there’s a link to an article for Reno, Nevada for Washoe County, where the judge used the PDF binder idea and her law clerk would add… What was it? Shortcuts… I call it yellow sticky notes, so you can navigate and then flip through the case file very quickly. And she was very, very annoyed because it was so much slower than her PDF binder approach. So those are a couple of ideas.

Kevin: Awesome. Brad or Scott, do you have any thoughts on?
Brad Smith: I’ve been around longer than you have, so just saying. The one thing in terms of what Jim was mentioning, these are all kinds of new technologies that I think people are trying out maybe for the first time. There is a website from the national center national centers, so ncsc.org/pandemic, which I’ve been following and there’s been some really good webinars on that as well. I think that the three points that came out during either looking through the very States and, or just listening to some of the webinars, is this an importance of information sharing.

Because certain States like Alaska, is almost built for remote access. So they have certainly a great deal of experience with that. Michigan has done a tremendous job with their legal aid. There’s been a lot of video conferencing these days, so people are trying probably Zoom for the first time and, or dipping their toes back into Skype. So as these States are starting to do some really outreach to their constituents, there certainly needs to be kind of a best practice during this pandemic.

What may work for two or three weeks, you may find out that at the end of the day, it’s not going to be sustainable as you move forward. And I think as you look at most sites, most court hearings, at least on the civil side, are being delayed maybe with the exception of protection orders and things of that nature. But while we are in the shutdown mode, it might be a great idea for everyone to get with the stakeholders from the attorneys to the pro se litigants, the legal aid societies, the courts, the clerks, State and local agencies, and really do a technology needs assessment or an analysis. Because oftentimes you just don’t know what your capabilities are until you really sit back and do a laundry list of what you can and cannot do.

Scott Bade: Yeah. I agree with that. I think, as you’ve indicated bread, we’re in shutdown mode, so we’re in mitigation mode right now. So the next 45 days, what I would recommend to courts that they do is, the NCSC site provides a lot of links to what various other States are doing. And I think there’s a wealth of information there and learning from others. I know that there’s been a number of folks that have scrambled and gotten together and written up procedures for holding remote hearings, without implementing any magical technology, just using things like Zoom and WebEx and off the shelf technology like that, that can be implemented literally overnight.

So my recommendation would be, let’s learn from each other. Let’s leverage the information that the NCSC is pulling together for us. I know the State of Michigan just released a report last week that was fantastic. I learned things about how to use Zoom that I had never known, and I’ve used them for many years, as well as other tools like that. So it’s just a good example of what the research of a number of courts coming together and putting their heads together in a time of a bit of desperation can really help each other. So that would be probably number one recommendation, is try to research what others are doing and learn from that, which everybody probably is naturally doing.

But you may not be aware of some of those sites that are available and we’ll try to share some of those links here. I think the NCSC has been gathering them together, which will save everyone a lot of time. I’ve also got a couple of links in a couple of slides going forward that should help as well.

Kevin: Awesome. So just diving a little bit deeper. I know that we mentioned e-Filing, also we mentioned emailing you separate filings, needing some other measures, maybe something like a Dropbox or box.com or other things to help with some files. But all those things of course carries some risk and there’s something inherent security concerns with that. And so Brad, I’ll start with you on this question is, for court that maybe it hasn’t been filed yet, or maybe they’re not filing for all the different case types, what are some other things that they can do in this position to overcome some of these challenges?
Brad: Well, personally, I think a lot of courts have dipped their toe into e-Filing throughout the country. Fortunately for those individuals, the attorneys still have the ability to file documents or exchange discovery in a secure manner. They also have that ability to go… Even though the court hearings aren’t going to be set, but they at least have the ability to accept those documents and get everything queued up. Because I think that the problem that some people are going to be having is, how do you deal with the glut of cases that are going to be back clogged, because it’s all about trying to disposed as many cases as you possibly can in any given court setting.

So if you want to look at ways to get e-Filing and electronic filing in certain States where they may have dipped their toes into the waters, but it’s more of a permissive environment. I know States should put out there, maybe a strongly worded suggestion as to it’s not a nice to do e-Filing, it’s really a must to do. And if you’re going to do that, I don’t believe you’re going to get a lot of pushback from paralegals, legal assistants, attorneys, even the clerks for that matter, because they’re no longer having to scan documents. They’re no longer having to deal with people coming in to their counter, the intake counter, collecting any statutory fees, handling paper, disassembling the paper, counting the pages, putting it through a scanner, reassembling it and take it to a court folder, only to be delivered to the judge.

So I do believe we also have to get the judges on board. And the judges have to be very comfortable with not only dealing with electronic records, but then also dealing with electronic records not only in chamber or in the courtroom, but also remotely. Because oftentimes that may be our first step as we get back to what is “the new normal.”

Scott: Yeah, I think you bring up some good points there. With e-Filing, there’s the normal way that we integrate e-Filing, which is we tie it into the CMS, everything’s tested end to end. It can be a long drawn out process. And most courts that, as Brad said, have dipped their toe in the water, they started usually with civil cases because those were the ones that were the best funded cases. But I think if courts can look at e-Filing a little bit differently in a situation like this, you don’t have to do e-Filing perfectly. Most e-Filing systems that I’ve encountered are very configurable. So you can add case types fairly easily. It’s a question of what happens to that data after it’s been submitted.

And if you can set up a generic process where many types of filings can flow through a similar process where maybe it’s not fully integrated with the CMS today, but at least you can get the data from the filer, from the litigants, from the parties, into the court, without people having to meet across a counter. That’s a huge advancement over… Even though it may not be perfect. So I think part of my biggest recommendation besides learn from others is, let’s not let perfect get in the way of a decent system or a good system.

We talk about Dropbox, we talk about Zoom. None of these products are CJIS compliant and none of these products are going to pass muster with the FBI and things like that, but that’s going to be okay for a short term mitigate mitigation strategy. And obviously your legal folks will need to make that call. But I think everybody, when you’re in a mode like this, you really got to think differently and think outside the box a little bit, and not worry so much about the ultimate solution that we’ll have in the end. But let’s mitigate this problem and get the court back in operation.

Jim: Yeah, that’s really good, Scott. I mean, the thing with the civil is, of course, you have a lot of filers that are institutions or they’re hopefully, maybe even represented by attorneys. So one of the things you can do, of course, is have a cover sheet, or it’s just like we were trained to do with our fax machines. So on that first page to include identification information. So if it’s a bar association, okay, the bar number, the attorney’s bar number, and we can check that. If it’s a business license, they’re registered either with the city or with the State, and you can check those numbers and see if those match up.

But also you can also check and see in their registrations, their official email address, and hopefully they kept enough to date or a way that we could send a text message, just so that we can say, “Hey, you made a filing. Is that okay?” So those are pretty easy. The public filers are a little bit more difficult, but there’s a lot of services out there to verify addresses and persons identities online now. So the question is, if you really need to have a verified identity for that particular type of case or particular type of matter, then you might want to spend a little bit money on that thing.

And there’s a list from good old Wikipedia, who I encourage everyone to give a donation to. I’ve been doing mine every quarter since I use them so much. You can give them a little charitable donation, tax deductible, to the Wikipedia organization. But that’s a list of the different verification systems. And I know that there’s several States that are using them to just check on. As I like to say, unverified types of filers, because we don’t really know who they are. So yeah, that’s something to check out.

Kevin: That’s a great gentleman. And that brings us to the next question is, civil filings are one area that a lot of courts are already e-Filing in. But criminal filings are a little bit different. There’s not as many funding sources as Scott mentioned earlier. And of course, having that data and the integrity of sharing that information between the courts and the prosecutors and, and also the opposing counsel. So Scott, maybe if you could just take a moment just to talk about some of that and take the discussion a little bit further, what are some of the challenges of criminal filings in this environment and how can we overcome some of those?
Scott: Yeah, sure. So first of all, our perspective, ImageSoft, we do a fair amount of e-Filing. We also work with a number of courts on criminal filings. We’re more engaged with the courts and the prosecutors than we are with the law enforcement. So I’m not going to talk a lot about law enforcement today when it comes to criminal filing, but I will touch on a couple of ideas that might be able to help. I think the bottom line is, obviously this crisis is still evolving. So anything we say today, we put a little asterisk next to, because it might have changed based on something that happened actually this morning that weren’t even aware of. So keep that in mind.

And hopefully folks will be able to get one or two or maybe more nuggets of useful information out of this, but we’re just trying to share a lot of ideas in shotgun fashion so that hopefully we’ll be able to help everybody with something. So I mentioned this earlier. I think there’s really two steps that I think all courts and really agencies should be looking at. You should be obviously looking at mitigation, which is a short term. And then where do we go from here? What is the plan for the future? And when I say plan for the future, I don’t just mean I’m running the court in a normal way. I think we should plan for these types of events are probably going to occur again. This very virus may be back again in a short period of time.

So I think planning for some of what we used to think was a worst case scenario, but now it’s an actual scenario is probably prudent. So when it comes to a couple of ideas… And some of the ideas, I think take a little bit more time, so I’ll identify those as more longterm solutions. There are some things that can be done quickly and we’ll try to call those out as well. From a police perspective, I referenced the police foundation at Oregon. There’s a number of other great sites for law enforcement folks to get information.

Obviously the police have special needs because they are frontline first responders that are dealing with… They have to handle the public, they have to touch people, they have to get closer than the rest of us. So they have special things that they’re concerned about. But when it comes to the court, typically the police engage to the court and to the prosecutor’s office in a couple of specific ways. And I think those ways can be helped through technology. I think obviously the arraignment process, a lot of police agencies and prosecutors and courts have been using video arraignment for some time.

And if you have then great, obviously that technology is going to help you in this scenario. If you haven’t been using video arraignment, I think my short term mitigation recommendation would be, you can set it up really quickly using basic tools and a couple of laptops. It doesn’t need to be perfect. You don’t want to be transporting if you can help it prisoners around. You’re just going to increase exposure to this virus. And so a couple of laptops and a little bit of help from your IT department and you’ve got a low cost video arraignment solution.

Now, certainly not going to be signing documents electronically through that simple process. But I think with a little bit of thought, you can really get what you need. And these are, like I said before, there’s some great strategies and ideas that other States have come up with that take well beyond what I can cover here in this short presentation. So the police beyond arrangements, there’s a number of situations where the police have to interact with the PA’s office, whether they’re requesting warrants, whether they’re delivering evidence. There are very sophisticated tools out there that are CJIS compliant. And CJIS, I hate throw around acronyms. That’s the FBI standard for moving criminal data around, and it’s very secure and encrypted.

There are tools out there that meet all those requirements. If you don’t have those tools now, you obviously don’t have time in the short term to get some of those tools going. So I think you’re going to be left with using some basic tools. I’m thinking two things, just like a VPN, a Dropbox, there’s a product out there called ShareBase that can be used to send data from one source to another. These can be great short term solutions for moving evidence files and moving other documents back and forth between the law enforcement officer and the prosecutor’s office.

I’m talking about evidence files, I’m talking about subpoenas going back, things that need to be served, et cetera. So I think short term, look for maybe easy wins for moving data that maybe are not quite as compliant as we’d like them to be, but can help us… and really this comes down to a decision I think every jurisdiction will need to make for themselves. Is it more important to be secure and CJIS compliant, or is it more important to expose as few people as possible to the virus? That’s not something I can decide for you, but you’ve gotten my opinion as I’m talking here. Beyond that, and I’ll just make a couple other quick points and I’ll let some others talk.

e-Filing obviously it’s been typically implemented in civil. e-Filing works very well for criminal cases as well. Criminal cases are typically not initiated through e-Filing, but the subsequent filings can flow very nicely through an e-Filing system. So as I said before, if you’ve got e-Filing now might be the time to, to press your vendor, to press your IT team, “Hey, let’s expand that system. Let’s get these criminal case types up there. They don’t need to be perfect, but we need to get the data to flow,” so that criminal defense attorneys don’t have to try to come into the courtroom if we can help it.

So e-Filing can play a big role there. And we do have many courts that use e-Filing for criminal cases, just as well as they do for civil. So I’d strongly encourage you to pursue expanding that if you’ve got that technology, if you don’t have any compiling… Yes, sir.

Kevin: Scott, I got a quick question for you.

Since everything is cloud-based these days, how fast do you think you could fire up e-Filing solution for a criminal case type?

Scott: It’s a great question. So there there’s an okay system. There’s a good system and then there’s a very good system. I think an okay system that is basically just a transport mechanism between filers and courts and has some authentication capabilities, could be brought online within a matter of a week or two. Something that’s a little more integrated that knows about the CMS and some of those things, that’s where you really get into long term. It’s going to take months to do that integration. So that’s probably not feasible.
Jim: The thing is you can put up the band aid in a couple of weeks and then you’re positioned to move forward.
Scott: And that’s my general recommendation, is I think people need to look at creative solutions to get us through the crisis and get as few people infected as possible. And then let’s think about a future that has more direct integration. So I agree with you, 100%.
Jim: There we go.
Scott: … I appreciate you stopping me. We just have such short time here that I’m going through some points really quickly here. So I hope everybody appreciates that we’re trying to maximize our window. Beyond e-Filing, I think Online Dispute Resolution, ODR, is really the future for a lot of… Making courts more efficient and also is going to feed right into the ability to have people work remotely. ODR is a newer technology. I’ve put a link on the… You can see it on your page. There’s a great site there where you can learn more about where that’s going, who’s doing what with it.

I mean, if your court is already using ODR or using some ADR, which is Alternative Dispute Resolution, which may get into mediation and things like that, there you’re in great shape. Expand those systems as best you can, as fast as you can. But ODR is probably more of a long term strategy. So I’ll skip over that for now. One of, I guess, the simple things that also can be looked at is electronic signatures from both an outside the court and inside the court, or as we say, inside the firewall.

The tools are very mature. They’re very inexpensive, they’re fairly easy to implement and there’s more than a dozen providers out there that provide electronic signing capabilities. My company has a product and everybody’s DocuSign in these other commercial products. So I would strongly encourage you to look at tools like that that can really help any filing system or help a strategy for having people process remotely. And I think we haven’t talked a lot about it, maybe it goes without saying. But the tools today for doing remote meetings are fantastic.

No one thought that Zoom would get as much attention, or WebEx, or these other products as they’re getting. But they’ve held up quite well. Zoom has taken some hits for having some security issues. I would not shy away from using a product like Zoom. It’s very feature rich. It’s very capable. Yes, it’s not perfect, but there’s a multi-billion dollar public company behind that’s going to scramble and get some of those security holes fixed, if they haven’t already. So I would say that’s a better source than having people walking into a clerk’s office or into a court courtroom to use some tools, that again, might be a little bit imperfect.

I also wanted to give a shout out. There’s a link here to the NCSC, has a special page called COVID and the courts. I rank it down to a tiny URL, so you can use that link there to get to that there’s a longer URL up there, but they have a running list of different events and information that they’ve gathered and they consolidate it. So it’s a great source. You can see what other States are doing. You can see what your State is doing and learn a ton of information from that.

And I think I am about done with my topic. So, sorry. I hardly took a breath. I apologize for my email’s on the screen. If anybody has a question for me… And again, I apologize for going so fast and throwing so many acronyms at you, but I’m trying to maximize the value of this to everybody.

Kevin: No, that’s great, Scott. And you talked a little bit about ODR and I know, Jim, this is one of the things that you had on your mind is, how does the public interface with the court. And so do you have any other thoughts on this, Jim, in terms of whether this ODR or… How does the public really engage with the courts during this time?
Jim: Yeah. ODR takes some work. Definitely, ODR definitely take it. So online dispute resolution is something that pays off once you have it fired up. And again, there’s some Cloud based systems that can make some of the simple types of case matters, like simple traffic matters that are not the serious ones to make payments, to let people take care of things quickly. So again, that would be a lot like Scott’s projection. In my mind, it would only be a couple of week project for the most simple type of case matters.

For more complex matters, we have all kinds of new projects that are out there, like the British, Columbia system that’s really very sophisticated for handling landlord, tenant cases and things. So there’s a lot of great things. So I think if you pick some simple cases, you could bring those up with one of the vendors, because there’s multiple vendors out there. And then I also just want to mention real quickly. Since we have summertime coming up and we have all those students stuck at home, there’s the a2jauthor.org website, that with a little guidance, a little online planning, you could put some smart students to work on building an ODR solution for you.

So you can just go check that out, because it’s a free tool kit. And as we like to say, it’s so easy even law students can use it.

Kevin: That’s funny. So you guys have been talking about a lot of these technologies and these are a lot of great ideas, and I know quite a bit of some of these. But I do know that in certain jurisdictions or certain States, there are laws in the book in terms of procurement rules that help to protect not only our public employees, but also protect the public to make sure that we’re really making the best technology decisions and spending the public’s money wisely.

But those laws and those regulations and rules are aren’t designed around a crisis like this. And Brad, I know that you were on a panel last year to a conference where… I believe you were with the State of Utah. You talked a little bit about procurement. So what are some ideas, from a procurement perspective that during this crisis that can ease the pain a little bit and make things work without causing long term situations that the court can extricate themselves from.

Brad: Right. I think at the end of the day, the procurement rules are there certainly for a reason. The summit we attended last year was to bring together procurement individuals, as well as court administrators, as well as the private sector and try to work around what is the best business practice to go about at sub jurisdictions. If it’s less than $50,000, then a court or a clerk’s office can go ahead and start a project without going out to a long and drawn out request for proposal.

Anything above that, then you typically have to do a RFP process, which takes months at times just to put together, let alone, release it. In our conversations the other day between the panelists, I think what we found is you’re going to… obviously we’re in an emergency situation and at any given time, whether or not the Governor of your State has issued that State of emergency, or your Supreme court in your State. There’s even some States which the Attorney General has stepped in as well.

That essentially what it says is that if you are procuring any kind of technology that is going to assist and then maintain the safety of the public, then as long as it doesn’t do any long term harm, that any restrictions are then waived at that point in time. I think it’s important for all of the jurisdictions that are out there, whether or not we have great ties with the Governor or with the Supreme Court, is to identify what you can do at this point in time in order to be ahead of the curve versus waiting months to figure out what your needs may be.

Because I know that that’s really important. I remember the State of Florida about five or six years ago when they were being totally overrun by foreclosures. There was federal grant money that came their way. And the State did a masterful job of taking advantage of that grant money to update their scanners, their case management systems, their document management systems, and their judicial dashboard. So anything to assist and enhancing the capabilities of the court system.

Scott: That’s good. Jim, are you seeing any… there’s obviously procurement has processes. Are you hearing from any courts on other obstacles? We’ve had a court here that has had some union issues and things like that, are you seeing anything like that?
Jim: What happens is that almost every… I’m sure every State has some type of emergency procurement act or capability process in there. It’s just that the courts, we don’t really run into the things, like the highway department has to go and get a temporary rental of a giant crane to pull the tanker truck. Yesterday we just had one that just hung off the… What’s it called? The Highbridge down in Norfolk.

Well, trust me, the court or the highway department doesn’t have that size crane just laying around. So there’s an emergency, there’s a lot of emergency procurement types of capabilities out there. When I got to work on our procurement laws and our rules in the Arizona court, what we did was we created the document and then we had the court adopt a rule that said, this is our procurement document. So the same thing is normally possible with those courts to be able to create the rule to do our temporary or adopt a particular emergency procedure from the general government, and then go move forward with that.

And remember emergency procurements, I think, should be short term. So you can certainly do one year or even a two year emergency procurement, but that’s not going to be your final decision. But it would help you with being able to address your immediate problem and deal with the procurement issues.

Scott: Are there any States in particular that have maybe good emergency rules that could be leveraged by other people?
Jim: No, I have to call my buddies back at the center. They are the ones who go and read statutes for fun. Not my kind of thing.
Kevin: So gentlemen this has been a lot of great information and a lot of helpful. I mean, this has been pretty dense. I imagine some people want to go back and listen to some of these ideas in terms of what they can apply in their courts. So we know that this is not something that is going to last forever. But Scott, you mentioned that this is a new normal, it’s almost like extinction level event. A comet has hit the ground and everything’s changed. So perhaps Scott, if you could just maybe start off, and then Brad and Jim, I’d love to have you guys chime in, in terms of what’s your courts be doing long term coming out of this? We should be saving the sites of their roadmap so that they put themselves on a path to success. And we’re better prepared for when the next thing happens.
Scott: Yeah, sure. And Kevin asked me this question ahead of time. So I put some thoughts on the slide there, just because I think better with where it’s written down. I think obviously this is a situation no one’s ever seen before. Some people probably predicted it, but not too many people. So I think this is probably going to be another 911 type moment only from a perspective of that we will probably not be the same after this. There’s going to be a lot of changes that are going to be permanent. So that’s where the analogy to 911 comes.

People don’t like to change. So this is going to be very difficult for some people in our organization. So I think there’s a lot of things that working with your HR teams and things like that, that people should be conscious of. That this is going to affect different staff members in different ways, but there’s going to be a lot of change coming, I think, as a result of this. And some of those changes are actually good. I’m a fairly optimistic person and I start looking at the silver lining here.

I think the internet has performed remarkably well. And I said to Kevin, I hope this thing doesn’t crash in the middle of me saying that. But I would go as far as saying the internet has probably saved millions of lives. If you compare this to pandemics from 100 years ago, the Spanish flu or whatever, where 50 million people died. Nothing like that is happening here. And I think that’s largely attributed to our ability to communicate driven by technology. So I think that’s some of the good news. I think this mobile society that we all lament has led to bandwidth being added that is really paying off in spades now.

But if we look at the future, I think, as I mentioned a couple of times, for now its mitigate. So we’ve given you some ideas for things you can do to mitigate, prepare for the future. I think it’s a future where things like this can happen. I think there’s also a new future where more people are going to work from home and work remotely, period. I don’t think there’s any avoiding that. Because I think we’ve proven that it actually is a very effective way to work in many cases and it saves a lot of money, it saves traffic, it saves smog. It has a lot of benefits to society.

So I think that new normal, whether you think that’s good or not, I think is a reality that the justice systems are going to need to consider how they can support their operations with a certain percentage of their people working remotely. I think I strongly encourage, I’ve said it a few times. NCSC is a great think tank source for information. So I’d strongly encourage you to use their website.

Some of the technologies we’ve talked about today are very proven. So leveraging pushing those to their maximum capabilities is very important, but while we’ve got this opportunity in front of us, where some of the barriers are going to be down, some of the momentum is going to be in place for getting into more efficient electronic systems. This might be a great time to push for ODR or public access or different sharing tools that maybe you’re not doing, and some of you may not have e-Filing yet. So certainly that would be top of my list as I was talking to the leaders in my court or the procurement folks that manage the purse strings and in my jurisdiction.

And I think that at the end of the day, rooting out paper and other analog communication processes is probably the key. And if you take it from… paper’s great, we all love it. But paper’s a problem in this type of scenario. And paper also is very costly. And so it’s not just paper, but it’s the processes, the manual processes of people having to show up in the same place. Certainly, I’m not suggesting that we’re going to replace face to face meetings, or hearings, or trial courts. That’s not going to happen. But where getting together in the same room is not completely necessary, I think we need to look at those as maybe expendable processes that can be improved with technology.

Jim: Hey, Scott, what I was thinking too, is that one of my to do projects, because we have the STEM set up, is that we’re going to start trying to do better projection on when to schedule particular types of hearings. And if you think about the conference setting and setting up those meetings, those conference calls, if you have an idea of, so how long the previous conference calls is going to take or the previous case hearing, you’re going to have a better shot at being able to be most efficient for the participants for yourself as a judge or yourself as a clerk.

So one of the things that I’ve been looking at is trying to pull the records as hearing, start times hearing, start dates and trying to do an analysis on the complexity of the hearing, the type of issues of the hearing, and number of participants and those sorts of things. So that then you can go and create a really nice, a good projection under schedule. So that’s on my list to do.

Scott: That’s a good point. And I said this earlier. I was surprised at how feature rich some of these off the shelf meeting tools are, like Zoom and WebEx. They’ve already got features that make almost every part of a court hearing possible. They have the ability to have a sidebar meeting room, and they have the ability to show information to one party and not the other. They have the ability for one person to control muting and who’s speaking. So, like I said, it’s not going to replace every face to face meeting or a trial, but for a show cause hearing or for some basic events where people need to get together and decide some specific items, that technology is very viable today and it’s very inexpensive. And because of the advent of the Cloud and the internet, it’s within reach of really everybody today.
Brad: Well, the only thing I want to add to that real quickly is, while we’re looking at all these different workflows and we use the term electronic filing quite a bit. One of the old clients I had over the years, he indicated… It’s not necessarily electronic filing, but it’s electronic document or data exchange. And so as we are starting to look at different ways maybe a process when you ask a question, everyone just says, “Well, we’ve always done it that way.”

I guess the real question to ask as we move forward is where does the paper go? And if, for example, we’re doing a project with the Department of Corrections and Louisville, and they’re getting documents from the court, orders to prevail, orders to release, intake orders to commit the prisoners. And that’s all done in paper. It certainly could be done electronically, which is doing now. They’re dealing with medical claims, which is done on paper, could be done electronically.

So I think all your stakeholders need to ask is where does that information go and how does it get there today? If it’s in paper, then let’s look at an alternative ledge which could make it electronic.

Kevin: That is great stuff, gentleman. And I thank you so much for sharing all the information. Another question that came up and I think this has to do with that question that came up in terms of, if we put in a really basic e-Filing system within a couple of weeks, there’s no integration with the CMS. It’s just a transport mechanism. One of the questions that came up is, what’s really the minimum or basic elements that the court would need in that case?
Scott: So there are a couple ways to answer that. And Jim alluded to it earlier, the good news about our advancement in technology over the last five years in particular is with the Cloud. The hurdle to get into technology like this is, has been reduced dramatically. So you don’t need to stand up servers and have a data center in those things any longer, if you can have high speed access to the internet, which virtually everybody has to today, you pretty much have the technology capabilities to do a lot of what we’re talking about.
Jim: Yeah. I mean, your expectations is going to replace your entire registration process. And in the two weeks a scenario, you’re not. You’re going to be replacing the courier or your postal carrier, basically. But you’re going to have everything scanned and have it available electronic format and already converted to PDF. So that buys you a lot of time. So then it’s just a matter of then registering those documents. Now, if in the basic system, you also may, if you can focus, have some identification. So clearly the person who’s filing the case number of the parties, all of that could come in and could be pretty easy to cut and paste in from your Cloud systems onto your CMS system, or keep it, whichever fastest.

And then, there’s actually some nice OCR services, now we call for bots. And click bots can actually be turned on to do a lot of the filings. So that’s just another possible product out there to look at.

Scott: And where I would start is, obviously you’re looking at the places where that are becoming more difficult to do today, where people have to be face to face with one another. And so that what’s happening at the clerk’s counter in the past, some of that could be automated with some basic tools. If you can’t put it in a full blown e-Filing system, then let’s put in, as Jim mentioned earlier an email system to do some of that. Yeah, it’s not the perfect system. It’s not very secure. But it can be better than a bunch of people getting COVID-19 in our clerk’s office. So I guess it’s a time to think creatively and think outside the box.
Kevin: Another question that came up was, they just asked you to repeat the link for the A2J resource. You guys remember what the actual-
Jim: Yeah, it’s a2jauthor, A-U-T-H-O-R.org. a2jauthor.org.
Kevin: Awesome. Okay, excellent. And then another question came up, and this was of course, one with a question of funding. Of course, it’s always a challenge in the government world. How do we fund these new technologies and court and government conference are going dry as result of the pandemic. Do you guys have any ideas as to what are some innovations that we could possibly do to work around that?
Jim: Well, just real quick. You think about what your filing fees are. I think it’s time to have that discussion about, perhaps being able to use some of your filing fees to add to this. Some States do allow for e-Filing fee. And if you think about it, e-Filing fee really is not an additional fee. It’s the cost of transport, which many people pay couriers, or you pay UPS, or you pay your time. I’ve had this discussion with my lawyer friends. Well, I just walked down to the court. He says, “And are you billing that time for your clients?” So yeah, shall we say, the expense has to be there. You just have to look and see where it’s at and we did it.
Scott: I was just going to say we’ve had some jurisdictions dovetailing on that, that have been able to add a small fee on top of spreading it across many different case types so that it’s a very modest fee, say $5, $10 for a case initiation, and spread out like that. It’s a very low impact to the civil bar. But it can create a fund over time that can be leveraged for something like this. I’m also hopeful that the federal government is going to… some of those billions of dollars or trillions of dollars are going to actually end up in State and local government coffers to be able to help with stuff like this. Because certainly the costs are there.

I think as the person who asked the question indicated, the coffers are dry because the pandemic is costing everybody money.

Jim: And there’s emergency funds out there too to go.
Brad: Emergency funding. Some States like Ohio allows for a special projects fund. Other States have taken tremendous advantage of federal grants, like the victim of Crimes Act, the Boca grants, which come in $62,500 increments. Always you’re going to get a lot more criminal grants. I would go to the federal website for grants. There’s an amazing amount of grants out there that go unused, which if you need any help with that, certainly reach out to us. We can step you through some of those things.

As I mentioned earlier, State Louisiana has done a phenomenal job at being able to enhance their technology by identifying the grants that to help a their rural State, for the most part be able to upgrade their technology throughout the 64 parishes.

Kevin: That’s awesome. Well, our time has expired and gentlemen, I just want to thank you all for being on the panel today. That was a very insightful and very helpful, and I learned a few things as well. And hopefully everybody on the call, also found it worthwhile as well.

If you want more information, you can go to imagesoftinc.com/courts. That’s imagesoftinc.com/courts. And we will have some additional links and information in the show notes for you.

Thanks again for joining us on this podcast. And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to People’s Productivity, where we tackle some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.


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