As they say, stuff happens. So it is very important that courts develop a contingency plan to keep operating as much as possible.
Our guest blogger, Steve Smith, Technology Services Supervisor of the 13th Circuit Court for Boone and Callaway counties in Missouri, shares what they have developed.
First some background information: My circuit uses the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator’s (OSCA) suite of applications for court case management. These include:
a) a case management system (CMS) that has an electronic document management system (EDMS) component. The CMS/EDMS system is branded as JIS (Justice Information System) and has been in use for many years.
b) a web portal branded as Case.net to access case and document information. Case.net presents read-only case information to both the public and court staff. Basic case information, case participants, docket entries and other information is presented. An enhanced-access version of Case.net utilized only by court staff includes the ability to view the electronic documents attached to the cases.
c) a web portal branded as eBench to manage docketed cases in the courtroom. eBench presents the list of cases to be heard for a given docket session. Cases are called, viewed and processed via eBench until all scheduled cases for that docket session are handled.
d) an online filing system branded as eFiling used by attorneys to electronically file cases and documents.
OSCA develops and centrally manages these applications and other electronic resources including shared network drives and print servers for most courts statewide.
As each of Missouri's counties make the transition to electronic case processing, OSCA recommends they develop a Case Processing Contingency Plan - a way to process cases in the event of an outage of electronic resources.
Accordingly, our circuit formed a work group with representation from judges, court clerks, the juvenile office, information technology staff and others. The self-identified tasks for the sub-committee were:
a) identify likely outage scenarios,
b) devise contingency plans for those scenarios,
c) identify staff key to implementing the plan, and
d) educate and communicate the plan.
For the purposes of the plan the assumption was made that most likely outages would last only a brief period such as a hiccup with one of OSCA's centrally-managed servers. Extended outages may require a tailored approach and thus were not included in the plan.
In our circuit the three major electronic components involved in managing a case docket are eBench, Case.net, and a word processing document stored on a shared network drive which records the decisions the judge makes for each case.
In advance of the docket session the court clerk prepares the eBench docket. This creates the electronic docket AND a printed copy of the docket. Several copies are printed out for various staff and also hung outside each courtroom.
During the docket session the judge uses eBench to call each case. The judge uses Case.net to view the events and documents of the case. When the case is concluded the judge enters his/her ruling as text into a word processing document on the shared network drive that is later accessed by the clerk's office to update the case management system.
It is during one of these docket sessions the Case Processing Contingency Plan is primarily expected to be executed. A copy of the plan is located in every courtroom and in other key locations.
Points include a communication plan among key court staff and OSCA once an outage occurs, and a decision-making flowchart to help courtroom staff respond to various outage scenarios.
The plan includes mitigation steps that recommend first to print an additional paper copy of each docket and have them available for retrieval on short notice and, with notice of severe weather the court may want to print out docket documents days in advance.
In summary, being prepared is the best policy.