Technology Drives Innovation and Efficiency in Courts
October 06, 2022 by
Innovative governments adopted software at the onset of the pandemic that allowed them to provide online court hearings, permit applications, and traffic ticket payments. In Seabrook, Texas, a town of about 14,000, there was a strong desire to adopt cutting-edge software, even though staff hadn’t seen other similar-sized governments do the same.
At the beginning of the pandemic, they adopted a virtual court solution, in order to prevent a backlog of cases from building up. A successful implementation, along with staff now earning awards for their work, shows that Seabrook can lead the way among any government, large or small.
“We feel like we can accomplish just about anything,” says Jessica Ancira, director of Municipal Court Services. “We’re looking forward to innovation.”
Staying Ahead of the Backlog
At the onset of the pandemic, Seabrook’s IT department worked quickly to get staff set up with computers and cell phones at home. The court heard cases over the phone, which was permitted by Texas due to the shutdown. Those calls would include Ancira, Presiding Judge Dick Gregg III, and multiple court clerks.
During this time, Seabrook’s court never built up a backlog of cases, and they smoothly transitioned to a virtual court solution, allowing them to stay on schedule.
When the court offices opened back up, Seabrook prioritized in-person hearings, but found the virtual court software to be an indispensable tool.
The solution allows for email and text notifications, along with live video streaming and live chat services, which create more interaction and accountability than a letter in the mail with a date to show up to court.
With expanded contact options, along with the ability to hold video hearings, Seabrook cut failure-to-appears in half.
“I'm not having to issue warrants,” Presiding Judge Gregg says. “I don't really want to throw somebody in jail because they don't appear in court, and this particular option lets them appear by their phone and nowadays, almost everybody has a phone.”
Gregg sees the video hearings as providing more equity in the justice system, allowing people who may have health issues, work conflicts, or just a hard time finding transportation the same access to court as anyone else. Everyone can participate in their case, and there’s little-to-no interruption to the regular court schedule.
Easy To Learn, Easy To Use
Fewer warrants and failure-to-appears also mean fewer scheduling issues and less paperwork for court staff, Ancira says.
“It actually takes a good load off of the clerks from having to do so much. So, it has changed everything.”
Seabrook has found the virtual court solution to be user-friendly at multiple levels. From an employee’s view, it’s straightforward and doesn’t require a huge learning curve. It also makes every step of the process easier, where clerks can add case notes and schedule hearings, which are then immediately available for the judge to view.
“The judge can make comments that the documents can be produced from,” Gregg adds. “And it's all kept in one place. That is probably the most important part.”
Leading the Way Forward
Court staff have received multiple awards for their work from state court groups in Texas and from Tyler Technologies.
Ancira took on the responsibility of leading tech adoption in nearby communities and has contributed to roundtables and provided outreach for any courts interested in updating their processes.
“We work in the mindset of a larger city,” Ancira says. “We are very innovative. We love technology. And I would say that we always look forward.”