Bar News - October 15, 2010
Commission Discusses Innovation Proposals
By: Craig Sander
The Judicial Innovation Commission, which was created in March by the NH Supreme Court, met late last month to discuss proposals that would help streamline judicial branch operations in the face of drastic budget cuts, two of which relate to significant structural changes within the judicial branch.
The first structure-related proposal calls for the consolidation of district, family and probate courts into a single "circuit court," which, according to the Commission, would reduce duplication of work over time and would streamline the workforce. The second calls for an examination of whether jury management, case processing, and court administration in the Superior Court could be done from a single location rather than from the 11 individual courthouses.
Other initial proposals cover three essential court functions: adjudication, data processing, and customer service. The Commission will discuss, evaluate, modify or eliminate these ideas before it submits its final report in December to the Supreme Court.
The creation of a centralized customer service call center, says District Court Administrative Judge Edwin Kelly, could significantly improve the quality of customer service to the state’s population, while simultaneously allowing court staff to focus on other vital aspects of court operations.
In August, all staff from six district and six family division locations tracked incoming phone calls for one week. The courts were varied in terms of size and formed a good cross-section of courts across the state. During that time, the courts received a total of 11,449 calls – 6,496 in the district courts and 4,953 in the family division. That is an average of five calls per minute to each court in the state, each of which must be handled by court staff that are also organizing paperwork, addressing in-person customer service requests, assigning attorneys and mediators, and managing all of the associated functions of the clerks’ offices.
A centralized call center, the Commission believes, would relieve the burden on court staff by having all calls to the court sent to a centralized location in the first instance. Trained customer service staff would then answer any questions not related to a specific case file, thereby saving individual offices the time required to handle basic calls not pertaining to their specific court.
In the long-term, centralized telephone banks, with connections to centralized case-file databases, would be able to answer questions about any case in any of the state courts.
Much like centralized call centers, the Commission is currently examining the idea of centralized data processing, fine collection, mailing, and other essential data-related services.
In one potential scenario, a centralized or privatized fine collection office, whose staff would be trained in debt collection techniques, would manage all collections of criminal fines, a process currently managed by court staff at each location.
The Commission also considered the long-term feasibility of having a single case management system for the entire judicial branch, which would open the door to e-filing, centralized processing, and easy transfer of cases from court to court. The implementation of the Odyssey case management system seems to show that the judicial branch is already moving in this direction.
The Commission had two major recommendations for the streamlining of the adjudication process.
The first was a proposal to request that the Legislature transfer all speeding and violation-level motor vehicle complaints and processing to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which already manages administrative hearings. This would ease a large burden from the district court dockets, which currently carry most motor vehicle violations.
The second was a proposal to remove felony jurisdiction from the District Court, which manages the early stages of felony cases. Rather, the Superior Court would have felony jurisdiction from start to finish. This, some Commission members say, would eliminate duplication of clerical work and would save both staff and judicial time.
The Judicial Innovation Commission is composed of judges, administrators, experts from the National Center for State Courts, leaders of state government, business leaders and others. View the list of Commission members.