One of the challenges for litigators who practice across state boundaries is making sense of state court systems: not just the culture and norms of the area, but often the structure and administration of the courts themselves. Many states are downright byzantine, with a large number of specialized courts (sometimes with overlapping jurisdictions), and no unified (or only recently unified) court systems. Local courts, covering counties and municipalities, are often under the governance of their host city or county rather than a centralized judicial administrator.
This is a product of history as much as anything, but it leads to obvious inefficiencies. One example making the headlines this week comes from Clark County, Ohio, where the county council has voted against consolidating two clerk of court offices, in part because they use entirely different electronic records systems. The move was originally proposed as a way to save up to $400,000 a year for the cash-strapped city of Springfield, but the city was unable to fund a study to confirm that number. In the end, lawyers, judges, and others will have to continue navigating different court systems with different technological resources.
The technology in Wyoming’s state courts is reportedly in terrible shape, ranging from extremely outdated to nonexistent. Half the courtrooms lack adequate power, and 80 percent lack digital capacity for video and videoconferencing. In response, the state legislature has approved an increase in court fees to fund technological improvements. The affected fees are primarily “automation fees” associated with filing a case, and moderately increased monetary penalties for a felony conviction.
At Above the Law, Nicole Black has an interesting piece on “judicial missteps” associated with social media use. Judges have faced recent disciplinary actions for posting on Facebook about active cases, attorneys appearing before them, or other judicial candidates. Black reminds us:
But the convenience of the immediacy and reach of social media is often tempered by its permanency. After all, a single tweet or Facebook post can have unintended and long-lasting effects. Unfortunately, that’s something people often forget in the heat of the moment, resulting in regrettable and irreversible mistakes.
That’s good advice for everyone. A little discretion on the internet goes a long way.
Two very different programs with the same goal of keeping people out of court were announced in North Carolina this week.
Durham County has one of the state’s highest levels of eviction filings, with approximately 900 cases filed each month. Eviction cases are stressful for tenants and costly for landlords. A new program co-sponsored by Legal Aid of North Carolina, Duke University’s Civil Justice Clinic, and the Durham County Department of Social Services is aiming to reduce eviction filings by guiding affected tenants to legal and financial assistance programs. The hope is that tenants will be able to remain in their homes, landlords will be paid the rent owed, and the courts will not be clogged with cases that might well be amenable to extrajudicial resolution.
In Buncombe County, local prosecutors have developed their own program to reduce the need for drivers to come to court to challenge or pay speeding tickets. Drivers caught going 15 miles or less over the speed limit would have the option of paying their fine or even negotiating for reduced points online. The district attorney behind the program estimated that 2000 people per day crowd the courthouse to appear before a magistrate for speeding fines.
It is no particular surprise that the growth of electronic filing in state and federal courts would lead to a diminution in the need for physical couriers. But this article offers some nice color into how the system has changed, and how remaining courier services stay on their feet (or bikes, as the case may be).