Virtual Court Inspires Leadership in Service and Equality
August 24, 2022 by
When the early weeks of the pandemic shut down offices and created a large backlog of court cases that couldn’t be held in person, governments had to find a way to keep serving their constituents. The city of Alvin, Texas saw an opportunity to not only get their court back on its feet, but also to make the leap to a modern digital solution. In the process, they streamlined employee workflow and gave constituents better access to their courts.
Modernizing With Court and Constituents in Mind
In April 2020, Alvin adopted virtual court software to tackle a backlog of 800 cases that had quickly mounted. Presiding Judge Mo Ghuneim felt it was important not only to help his staff catch up, but also to ensure constituents and defendants could have resolutions and move on, even as they couldn’t travel to court.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for them to still take care of business; still be safe during the pandemic when everybody was scared.” Ghuneim says. “We like the fact that virtual court gave us the opportunity to still process cases, to still move the court forward.”
Alvin’s case backlog shrunk, and the city was able to cut some overhead costs at the same time, including security for in-person court appearances.
The city then looked toward the future of their new court: one where virtual attendees and live attendees could be present, and staff would be able to schedule and log documents all in the same place.
Digital Solutions Solve Real-World Problems
The all-encompassing digital solution, paired with virtual court hearings, means staff can now easily schedule hearings and pull all information on cases, defendants, and hearings from the same software.
These tools add to their ability to serve constituents. If someone lives outside of Alvin or has trouble making their court appearances, virtual court gives an option to reduce missed hearings.
“You need to give the court that option to serve the community, to serve its citizens, and even to serve the defendants in a way that is manageable, in a way that is fair to everybody, in a way that you ensure that justice is being done without being oppressive to anybody,” Ghuneim says. “Embrace that because it’s going to help you make your court more dynamic.”
Leveraging Experience in Leadership
Alvin has taken the lead among nearby cities with problem-solving through digital solutions. Ghuneim, who presides over multiple courts, sees how inefficient systems in other municipalities can generate errors and create more work for staff. An all-in-one system is easily more efficient.
“It benefits us to have everything in one solution versus different solutions because having different solutions can cause chaos,” Court Administrator Sonya Cates says. “It can cause a lot of issues, so it’s important to house everything into one.”
Adopting new software is natural for Alvin, who previously beta tested for several versions of their all-in-one court solution. This relationship with the developer empowered staff engagement with the software they used every day since they would see new features added that directly addressed issues and needs the city saw. When the solution would roll out to other municipalities with those new features, Alvin was a willing resource for questions or concerns.
“We’re big fans of mutual collaboration,” Ghuneim says. “We’re very happy to share our processes with other courts.”