Digital Court Software Ensures Smooth Case Handoff

November 02, 2022 by Peter Friesen

Digital Court Software Ensures Smooth Case Handoff

When court decisions impact local government operations, there can be a panic, a hustle to keep up with new laws as they take effect. For the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, some forethought from leaders in leveraging a dynamic digital solution ensured their court didn’t miss a beat, even during a pandemic.

No Case Left in Limbo

In 2020, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma upheld tribal sovereignty in federal criminal cases. The ruling would add dozens of cases to existing tribal court workloads, and many feared detainees would be released en masse while ownership of their cases changed hands. In 2021, another decision (Sizemore v. State of Oklahoma), made in Criminal Appeals Court, recognized the Choctaw Nation's reservation boundaries had not been disestablished, thus resulting in the transfer of hundreds of cases to the Choctaw Nation.

The Choctaw Nation was prepared, however. Using a scalable case management software solution, they were able to take ownership of about 200 cases the day the rulings took effect, with no cases left in legal limbo, according to Kelsey Long, senior legal clerk for the Choctaw Nation’s Office of the Tribal Prosecutor.

“One of the criticisms of the McGirt/Sizemore decisions is that violent criminals would be let out of prison immediately … that did not happen,” Long says. “So, by our office preparing these documents and getting them ready, we were able to keep people who had committed violent crimes in prison until the federal government decided to take on those crimes or we process them.”

Efficiency and Connectivity

The court succeeded in part by integrating an attorney management software with their case management solution, allowing cases to be filed and managed digitally. This innovation eased communication on individual cases and allowed for more work to be done remotely — a matter of safety during the pandemic, which has turned into an efficiency the court and attorneys now rely on.

In Long’s previous work with the state of Oklahoma, she saw how an older, manual system slowed processes and complicated what could be simple tasks. Her office had all court clerk filings tied to a specific computer, which meant employees had to walk over and log on to double-check dates, times, or other data to inform their own work. This computer was shared by the whole office.

With the Choctaw Nation’s solution, Long can do all of her work from her own computer, and then interface with other department’s files and schedules anytime, from anywhere.

“Because we connect with the court clerk's office, we can send them documents right away and they're available to them to get filed, as soon as possible,” Long said. “It's just a more streamlined process and much more efficient than emailing documents, which was our other alternative before we started implementing the tasks and queues option.”

Better Serving the Public

For the public, the solution ensures up-to-date case information is available online, allowing them to check on the status of a given case even outside of the court’s office hours. This lessens the burden on staff to answer phones and look up cases, as well as reducing public records requests.

After the pandemic forced a technological shift, Long says her constituents expect the same ease and efficiencies moving forward. The Choctaw Nation’s tribal prosecutor’s office is currently in a multistage plan to grow their digital solution, which may include virtual court appearances, among other advances.

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