Friday, February 22, 2013

Court Scheduling Reform Advocated

In an editorial following the recent and tragic shootings in Wilmington, Delaware on February 12, 2013, there was a call for reform of court scheduling.

In an opinion article published in the Delaware Online website for the News Journal newspaper, columnist Rhonda Graham wrote about a reader’s comment on how courts could respond:
““A simple change in court schedules would help. Hundreds are always given the same times to come into court for jury duty selection or appearances. Add the staff coming into the building, and you end up needing a large lobby to accommodate all the lines. Staggering shifts and jury pools would be an easy and immediate aid in monitoring people.” 
Not a bad idea, but it can’t conflict with state and federal laws mandating specific deadlines by which courts must begin cases. And that could happen because such a change would impose considerable scheduling nightmares for managers of the Supreme, Chancery, Superior and Common Pleas dockets. The volume of court personnel, jurors, witnesses and members of the public who have immediate needs or are summoned for appearances in New Castle Courthouse on a daily basis is by no small measure considerable.”
I can’t tell you how frustrated I am with court intransigence on this idea.  Many years ago I was interviewing some metropolitan court staff and learned that they were holding an evening court session for traffic and other minor offenses.  They told me that on average they called approximately 600 persons to appear at 4:00 PM each court day but that only half appeared.  I then asked how they called the cases and they said in alphabetic order.  Of course this means that if you have a last name starting with a letter in the second half of the alphabet one would always have to wait for hours until your case was called.  And the court staff further noted that only about half of the total persons called appeared at 4:00.  In other words, the citizens figured out not to waste their time coming early.  They self adjusted. Too bad the court didn't.

To quote the introductory sequence of “The 6 Million Dollar Man” television show, “we have the technology”.  The data is available in the case management or even the digital recording systems to analyze the type and length of courtroom proceedings.  In turn we can schedule groups to come on let’s say an hourly basis.  This alleviates lines at security, the need for big courtrooms with lots of seating or worse, seating in the hallways; as well as the need to build huge parking lots or structures for the Monday morning 9:00 AM stampede.

If the judge “runs out of cases” during a particular hour, it would be a good time for a short break, or to deal with attorneys or court staff on procedural issues.  And if this occurs frequently, the schedule can  and should be adjusted.

Regarding court rules or statutes, as we who work in the courts know, they can be changed.  I have seen scheduling rules and statutes set by number of days from X event, or total number of hours from arrest, these rules can be reviewed based upon new realities and information and be adjusted.

And last, we have all kinds of mobile technology that provides opportunities to notify persons as to whether the court is running early or late.  Shouldn't those opportunities be reviewed to help to address this problem too?

So if your court has tried some manner of a “staggered” calendar call, please write and share your experience.

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