Case management systems (CMSs)—software systems that help courts manage case information from filing to post-adjudication—are instrumental in enabling courts to adopt e-filing and go paperless. Using a CMS provides various law and justice personnel the ability to access and share information about all parts of a case, throughout the entire process, both remotely and simultaneously. In addition to helping manage case processing and enabling information sharing, these systems handle data privacy and access issues. They range in complexity and price.
Despite the advantages of a CMS, many small, rural, tribal and border (SRTB) court systems rely on paper files to move a case through the process. When agencies in these areas do implement a CMS, its full benefits are realized when it is configured for the particular court’s needs and processes, it is reliable and easy to maintain, and staff are properly trained on the system. In SRTB agencies, however, the touted capabilities and benefits of a system often go unrealized because of staffing, expertise, training or budget limitations.
The Tulalip Reservation comprises 22,000 acres in Snohomish County in the mid-Puget Sound area of Washington State and is home to the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skagit, Suiattle, Samish and Stillaguamish Tribes. The tribal community has about 4,400 tribal members. The Tulalip Tribal Police Department and Tulalip Tribal Court maintain law and order within the boundaries of the Tulalip Reservation. At full staffing levels, the Tulalip Tribal Court has three full-time judges, four probation staff, and 10 court staff. The Tulalip Tribe also coordinates with the (non-tribal) Snohomish County Sheriff's Office to provide law enforcement services.
In 2012, the Tulalip Tribal Court was using a CMS that was not considered user-friendly, and which caused significant frustration on the part of staff members, for a number of reasons. The court paid a per-user licensing fee for the CMS, which kept the user group small and limited to only those positions requiring access to the system. The limited license availability meant that those with access had to conduct repetitive administrative tasks in order to share information stored in the CMS with others, such as emailing dockets weekly to all law and justice personnel. It also meant that probation officers did not have access to the system to update cases with important information relevant to court decisions.
The CMS also did not 'speak' to other systems in use by the court, such as its financial system, used to track court payments like fees, restitution, and fines. This set-up—with independent, unconnected systems—complicated data entry because it required several windows be at one time in order to complete data entry or even look up basic information. In 2012, the Tribe decided to start looking for a new CMS that could address the court's needs and help the court move to a paperless environment.
Technology and operations solutions
To start the process of selecting and implementing a new CMS, the Court asked its Technology Support Department to research solutions and vendors. Six vendors were selected for in-depth discussions and product demonstrations based on product functionality and price.
Ultimately, the Court chose a CMS from the same vendor that provided its financial software; the two solutions integrate seamlessly. When the court collects fines, fees, and restitution, the financial payment maps to the case file in the CMS. The court also purchased additional modules—for judges and probation—to augment the CMS. The new system also has an analytics capability and can generate statistical reports.
The new CMS was also selected because it was significantly more user-friendly than the previous system. The new system is web-based and as such can support a large number of users, allowing access by a more cohesive group of law and justice personnel, including judges, court administrators and clerks, prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders, civil-legal aid organizations, and child welfare agency staff.
The Tulalip Tribal Court decided to retroactively input two years’ worth of cases into the new CMS prior to the system launch. After nearly a year of transition, the new CMS went live in June 2013.
For new cases, clerks enter case information and scan all related hard-copy documents into the system. Judges and probation staff can use their respective applications to access, modify, and manage their cases with the specialized functionality they need. And other users have access to case information more readily and easily than they did with the prior system.
Outcomes and advice
The new CMS has provided a number of benefits to the Tulalip Tribal Court. It has streamlined the work of court staff, reducing repetitive data entry and administrative tasks by linking with other systems already in place. It has also negated the need to have a few users share information from the system with a larger group; now individuals can access the system on their own as needed. In addition, the ability to scan and store hard copy documents in the CMS gives users access to all case-related documents, improving information sharing across different parts of the court and justice system (e.g., judges and probation officers).
The tribe also learned some lessons about best practices for adopting (or changing) a CMS.
Staff time. Understanding that the process involves a significant amount of staff time is important. Staff must spend time training on the new system to exploit its full functionality. Migrating to a new system —inputting existing data, migrating electronic data from one CMS to another, and scanning paper files into a new system—also takes time. Planning ahead and setting realistic expectations for the amount of time this will take cannot be overestimated.
Continued training. The tribe also reports that the initial vendor training was sufficient for getting the staff up and running on the system but that it did not budget for more training after the initial week of on-site sessions provided by the vendor. Since implementation, the court has experienced normal staff turnover, and new staff don't receive formal training on the CMS. For now, the court provides new hires with a brief orientation to the CMS and on-the-job training on its capabilities and use. Existing users also want to take advantage of more of the system’s capabilities; analytics is one area in particular where the staff feels it needs more training. Additional staff training could expand the utility of the system for the tribe. Based on its experience, the tribe recommends budgeting for at least one week of annual training at a minimum.
Planning for system costs. The new CMS provides significant advantages, but it was also the most expensive system the court considered. The Tribal Court negotiated pricing based on a budget it could afford and has to pay annual support and maintenance costs; these increase by about three percent per year. Those costs are covered with tribal funds. Funding for the CMS and additional modules came from several sources: tribal money, Department of Justice (DOJ) Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS) grant money, and supplemental funds from the borough of Quil Ceda Village located on the Tulalip Reservation.
Based on these challenges, Tulalip’s advice is to negotiate with the technology solution provider for aggressive pricing.
For further information: Wendy Church, Tulalip Tribal Court Director, firstname.lastname@example.org