Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Promising Court Practices

In this time of budget cuts, courts across Texas should be looking for solutions to deliver justice more efficiently and effectively. Last Friday my office and our Judicial Council Committee on Court Resources met with representatives of the Travis County Court system for a lively briefing on several promising initiatives that they have implemented. Our enormous thanks to District Clerk Rodriquez-Mendoza and Judges Naranjo, Dietz, Lynch and Earle, and their talented staff. We learned more about:

  •  The Law Library's self help program;
  • I-Jury Online jury impaneling;
  • Travis County Impact Supervision;
  • paperless courtroom practice in the civil courts, including Efiling, document management, and the brand new Civil Courts Online site which lawyers can use to schedule hearings;
  • and the broad variety of problem-solving courts they operate: drug diversion, DWI, misdemeanor and felony mental health, and veterans court.
Other promising Texas court practices that are documented on the Internet include:

 Counties such as Harris and El Paso that use direct electronic filing of criminal cases, see “Evaluating the Impact of Direct Electronic Filing in Criminal Cases: Closing the Paper Trap,” Task Force on Indigent Defense (2006).
Recent study results on mental health courts and mental health public defender offices in Tarrant, Dallas and Travis counties. These programs create means through which an arrest can be used to address therapeutic needs. From its findings the study concludes that these specialty interventions offer good alternatives to incarceration that save money and address fundamental problems leading to criminal behavior.

The use of court performance measures to become “radically transparent” in Lubbock County, see “Radical Transparency in Action,” Lubbock County Board of Judges (2007), and other materials available on their website.
Based in Lubbock, the Regional Capital Public Defender Office, which is serving 65 counties and hopes to expand to serve 240.

The Committee on Court Resources also recently surveyed county auditors on their court budget situations, and learned (or learned more) about the following local initiatives, many motivated by jail population:
Williamson County: the County Attorney's 2007 direct-file case screening system to speed up adult misdemeanor dockets and alleviate jail crowding, and implementation of Tyler Odyssey's Prosecutor software.
Tom Green County: systemwide meetings to expedite processing times for jail inmates, cutting out of county housing costs by 96%.

Tarrant County: Differentiated Felony Court Management in the Tarrant County system, resulting fewer pending cases and reduced numbers awaiting trial in the jail; and the Tarrant District Attorney's Efiling and electronic open access to case files for defense counsel.

Nacogdoches County: video magistration by justices of the peace and a paper-ready position in the district clerk's office to speed the process of getting an inmate ready to transfer to TDCJ (from 38 days down to 3!), yielding a 32% decrease in jail population and allowing elimination of one jail shift.

Kerr County: a new weekly plea docketand video teleconferencing between courthouse and jail, and exploration of more video connections for the counties around Kerr that share judicial districts.

Hunt County: An intake prosecutor to eliminate a backlog; bar code scanning for tracking of court evidence; and audio/video technology for courtroom presentation of evidence.

Harris County: Creation of the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to implement recommendations from a Justice Management Institute report involving jail population, indigent defense, special needs offenders, and other systemic issues; and a State Jail Impact Court for early and meaningful intervention on drug offenders.

Grimes County: Video magistration, streamlined attorney ad litem compensation; and clustering child protection and IV-D courts for greater efficiency.

Fayette County: Moving to Tyler Odyssey case management.

Dallas County: Several varieties of specialty courts and an updated system for attorney appointments.

Castro County: More frequent hearings to reduce jail population, and regular checks of criminal cases to discover those that may have slipped past due to out-of-county bonding.

Cass County: Construction of a criminal justice center with space to allow both district and county court to operate simultaneously.

Camp County: Adding scanning capability and a computer to the district court room for access to case records from the bench.

Cameron County: County-wide information technology implementation.

Caldwell County: Additional district attorneys, and judges receiving a weekly jail roster to help move cases.

Burleson County: Court compliance officer to aid in collection of fines, fees and costs.

Bexar County: Magistration system, rocket docket, and movement toward credit card acceptance for all courts to expedite payments.

Bastrop County: Special attention to processing cases in compliance with indigent defense requirements.

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