2015-16 Annual Report
Issue 4: Modernize the Administration of Justice & Operation of Court Facilities
People expect that their court system will operate effectively, efficiently, and conveniently; that due process will be followed; that disputes will be resolved justly and in a timely manner; and that appropriate information will be available to them promptly and without undue expense. To meet these expectations, Florida’s courts system—which disposes over 3.7 million cases each year—must constantly find ways to improve the processes used to accomplish its constitutional mission. Toward that end, the judicial branch continues to make advances in the use of technology to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, timeliness, and security of court processes. At the same time, it takes seriously its responsibility to keep the doors of the courthouse open and to protect all judges, court personnel, court users, and court facilities from emergencies—both human-made and nature-driven—that have the potential to disrupt court operations and delay justice.
- Florida Courts Technology Commission
- Integrated Trial Court Adjudicatory System
- Trial Court Performance Management Framework
- Uniform Case Reporting Project
- Shared Remote Interpreting Workgroup
- Florida Trial Court Technology Strategic Plan: 2015 – 2019
- Electronic Florida Appellate Courts Technology Solution
- Emergency Preparedness
Florida’s judicial branch is increasingly deploying technology to facilitate the effective, efficient, and fair disposition of cases in a timely manner. Technology is now an inherent and inextricable component of the daily operations of the judiciary. In recent years, for instance, Florida’s courts have made significant advances in upgrading case management systems, continuing the implementation of electronic case filing, working with electronic case files, and automating business processes. For background information about some of the courts system’s most promising technology initiatives—e-filing, the Appellate Courts Technology Solutions, the Integrated Trial Court Adjudicatory System, remote court interpreting, the Florida Trial Court Technology Strategic Plan, and electronic access to the courts—please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives (Page 48 - PDF version).
Established in 1995 under the direction of the supreme court, the Florida Courts Technology Commission (originally called the Court Technology Users Committee) oversees, manages, and directs the development and use of technology within the branch; coordinates and reviews recommendations concerning court policy matters that involve the use of technology; and establishes the technology policies and standards by which all court committees and workgroups must abide.
To address its extensive responsibilities, the commission creates committees, subcommittees, and workgroups, assigning specific tasks to each. When a task is completed, the entity that oversaw its implementation is sunset or placed in inactive status; such is the case with the Compliance Subcommittee and the Operational Procedure Review Workgroup, for instance. And when the commission takes on a new task, it creates an additional body to address it; recent examples are the Rules of Judicial Administration Joint Workgroup and the Interpreter Data Workgroup. The commission is chaired by Judge Lisa Taylor Munyon, Ninth Circuit. (Take this link to access the commission’s 2016 annual report.)
One of the responsibilities of the Commission on Trial Court Performance and Accountability (TCP&A) is to spearhead technology-based strategies for moving cases more efficiently and effectively through the trial court process. In December 2012, the branch had a momentous breakthrough when, after an intensive two-year collaboration, the TCP&A, together with its Court Statistics and Workload Committee and with the Florida Courts Technology Commission, released the Trial Court Integrated Management Solution (TIMS) report, which provided a framework for a standardized, statewide, integrated data management solution for capturing and reporting case and court activity information for use both at the circuit and statewide levels. In short, this report defined the kind of data the courts need to collect about the activity of the courts as well as the kind of system the branch needs to build in order to collect these data. The supreme court accepted the recommendations of the TIMS report in March 2013, and since that turning point, the branch has been working on a series of small, self-contained projects that will eventually be “snapped together” to form what is now being called the Integrated Trial Court Adjudicatory System. For more about this system and about the TIMS report, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives (Page 50 - PDF version).
The TCP&A has been monitoring the development of two key elements of the Integrated Trial Court Adjudicatory System. One is the Court Application Processing System (CAPS), which is a computer application designed for in-court and in-chambers use by trial judges or their staff to access and use electronic case files and other data sources in the course of managing cases, scheduling and conducting hearings, adjudicating disputed issues, and recording and reporting judicial activity. The second is the Judicial Data Management Services Project (JDMS), a state-level data management strategy that will be able to pull court activity data from multiple sources and integrate them into a coherent whole. Lately, the commission has been focusing on two significant components of the JDMS: the Trial Court Performance Management Framework and the Uniform Case Reporting Project, which are described below.
In 2014, the supreme court directed the TCP&A to develop “recommendations on a performance management framework for the trial courts with an emphasis on articulating long-term objectives for better quantifying performance to identify potential problems and take corrective action in the effective use of court resources.”
Performance management relies on the use of data and computed measures in decision-making. The performance management framework sought by the supreme court would help to ensure that courts are guided by the notion of due process as well as gauge whether administrative practices are working as desired. Long-term goals for such a framework would include identifying better management practices for improving the statewide collection and use of performance measurement data.
To address the supreme court’s directive, the TCP&A chair, Judge Moreland, established a Performance Management Workgroup, appointing Judge Victor Hulslander, Eighth Circuit, as chair. Based on the National Center for State Courts’ High Performance Court Framework for using data collected under a statewide court data model, a year-long review of national literature, and input from the circuits, the workgroup prepared a report, which it submitted to the supreme court in June 2016. In developing Recommendations on a Performance Management Framework for Florida’s Trial Court: Phase One, Foundations for a Performance Management Framework, workgroup members envisioned what the branch is going to look like in 10 years and then worked backwards to try to determine what type of data-collection system is needed today to achieve that vision. The report includes the goal and scope of the performance management framework, essential element principles and administrative principles of the framework, and long-term objectives of the framework.
The supreme court approved the recommendations in 2016, and in an administrative order, it charged the TCP&A with continuing its work to develop the performance management framework, specifying an order of priorities. (This link goes to the TCP&A’s administrative order.)
The Uniform Case Reporting Project, the second component of the JDMS on which the TCP&A has recently been focusing, is a data collection project designed to capture the case activity data that the Performance Management Framework has deemed necessary for achieving process improvement. This project was propelled by a February 2015 report of the Judicial Management Council’s Performance Workgroup, which recommended that the TCP&A propose clerk collection and reporting requirements that address the collection of specific data elements, detail the transmission of that data in a prescribed format, and establish a meaningful timeframe necessary to enhance performance reporting.
Overseen by the TCP&A’s Court Statistics and Workload Committee, the UCR Project is actually a descendent of one of the technology components of the courts system’s Foreclosure Initiative. This initiative, which was implemented from 2013 – 2015 to help judges reduce the glut of backlogged foreclosure cases while protecting the rights of the parties involved in litigation, included the development of a data collection plan that tracked and monitored case activity data, providing, for instance, the specific cases filed, the specific cases disposed, and the specific cases that were still pending. Realized in June 2014, this data collection plan represented a standardized way of calculating and looking at workload, and it provided all levels of court with critical information concerning the movement of foreclosure cases through the courts. For more about the Foreclosure Initiative, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives (Page 25 - PDF version).
In April 2016, the supreme court issued an administrative order in which it revised and expanded the existing clerk of court data reporting requirements for foreclosure cases to all case types. The order also directed the clerks of the circuit court to increase the data elements, thereby providing the courts with additional information about court system workload (on case inventory and status assignment, summary reporting system case type and disposition assignment, and post-judgment reopen and re-closure activity for all case types), and to electronically transmit the data to OSCA directly through an approved interface. (Take this link to read the administrative order regarding the new uniform case reporting requirements.)
Since the Foreclosure Initiative ended, the UCR Project has been making some significant advances in the branch’s data collection system. For instance, the UCR Project will be the first statewide courts system initiative to use web services, an architecture that will facilitate the easy exchange of data, regardless of the data applications or systems being used; at last, the clerks’, circuits’, and OSCA’s systems will all able to “talk to” one another. And to ensure it is collecting data that are as reliable and accurate as possible, OSCA will expand its system to accept streaming data; the clerks will be able to send the record any time a change is made. All these steps will improve the quality and timeliness of the information being collected.
Another major technology initiative in which the TCP&A has been involved is the use of remote interpreting systems to facilitate sharing interpreting resources among different circuits, thereby containing the costs of interpreting resources while maintaining accuracy.
Court interpreting services are essential in ensuring the constitutional right of access to justice. According to US Census Bureau statistics (2015), approximately 12% of Florida’s residents have limited English proficiency. Courts continue to face challenges in addressing the increased needs for quality interpreting services amid a short supply of qualified interpreters. While large population centers are home to more interpreters, rural areas of the state lack the same resources. By embracing technology, Florida’s courts system can eliminate these geographical impediments. Shared use of remote interpreting services represents an opportunity for courts to significantly improve interpreter services through enhanced technological communications, while also using state resources wisely. For some background about shared remote interpreting services in Florida’s trial courts, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives (Page 51 - PDF version).
In 2014, after a successful pilot program that explored how court interpreter resources can be utilized using virtual
remote interpreting technology, the TCP&A established the Shared Remote Interpreting Workgroup, directing it to
make recommendations on the business processes associated with sharing remote interpreting across circuit
jurisdictions. Chaired by Mr. Thomas Genung, trial court administrator for the Nineteenth Circuit, the
included members from the TCP&A, the Trial Court Budget Commission (TCBC), and the Court Interpreter Certification Board.
After the joint workgroup completed an extensive court interpreting data collection effort and developed recommendations for improving access to qualified interpreter services, the TCP&A, in October 2016, submitted a report to the supreme court entitled Recommendations on Shared Remote Interpreting Services in Florida’s Trial Courts. The report includes six recommendations: establish a statewide pool of court interpreters who are certified in accordance with the Florida Rules for Certification and Regulation of Spoken Language Court Interpreters; establish statewide education and training provisions on virtual remote interpreting; require each interpreter participating in the statewide pool to track virtual remote interpreting events by entering information into a local system; allow interpreters to take an oath administered by the presiding judge that would remain valid as long as the interpreter is employed; establish a governance committee to make recommendations to the TCP&A, the Court Interpreter Certification Board, and the TCBC regarding management and oversight issues of the statewide pool; and authorize the governance committee to monitor funding needs of the circuits and make recommendations to the TCBC.
After the court approved the recommendations in December 2016, the TCP&A established a Shared Remote Interpreting Governance Committee. (This link goes to the administrative order adopting the workgroup’s recommendations.) Chaired by Chief Judge Elizabeth Metzger, Nineteenth Circuit, this committee will be responsible for establishing the statewide court interpreting pool for remote interpreting and for developing recommendations regarding additional funding needs, collecting workload data and needs-based funding information, and overseeing administrative/management issues associated with shared remote interpreting.
Developed by a Trial Court Budget Commission workgroup and adopted by the supreme court in January 2015, the Florida Trial Court Technology Strategic Plan identifies the critical business capabilities and the corresponding technical capabilities that the trial courts must have in order to function effectively. (This link goes to the technology strategic plan.) Through the legislative process, the judicial branch continues to pursue funding to implement and sustain the technology projects identified in the plan.
The branch has identified, and seeks to secure funding for, the following crucial technology needs:
- Hardware and software to receive and manage case files electronically (the branch aspires to build on its investment in the Court Application Processing System, which provides judges and court staff with electronic case file information and functionality needed to perform their adjudicatory function);
- Functional digital court reporting systems (audio and video hardware and software will support service delivery of recording the official court record);
- Remote court interpreting equipment (the branch seeks to expand the regional remote interpreting technology pilot—in which nine circuits are currently participating—to accommodate statewide implementation, which will allow for the pooling of limited resources for certified interpreters and will provide a more consistent level of interpreting services across the state);
- Sufficient bandwidth (additional bandwidth will accommodate remote interpreting as well as e-filing, increased web-based services, and increased digital traffic);
- A minimum level of technology services in communities across the state (the branch seeks to ensure core function capabilities for smaller counties as well as skilled staff to support court-specific systems in all counties and judicial circuits);
In developing a robust technology infrastructure in the trial courts, the branch will be better positioned to help ensure equal justice to Floridians in all 20 circuits. For more about the technology strategic plan, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives (Page 52 - PDF version).
The branch continues to move forward with its existing technology solutions to help streamline and aid in the administration of judicial processes such as case management, document management, workflow management, and the seamless integration with electronic filing. The appellate courts have been participating in the electronic Florida Appellate Courts Technology Solution (eFACTS) project to facilitate and advance case management operations.
eFACTS, developed by OSCA’s Office of Information Technology, was piloted at the supreme court and the Second DCA. It utilizes a Microsoft web application platform and includes document management, electronic workflows, electronic voting, remote access via a secured web application, tracking of administrative matters, assignment and working document tracking, calendaring, public on-line dockets, and secured access to case information. In 2016, modifications to eFACTS included person/entity management, docketing, and case search and reporting enhancements, and new additions included a recusal tracking feature. In addition, the Office of Information Technology has been making backend improvements to enhance the performance, reliability, and supportability of eFACTS.
The supreme court and the five DCA applications continue to be modified to accommodate the needs and preferences of clerks, judges, and court staff. Now, the Office of Information Technology is focused on retiring the legacy components of the existing case management system and on facilitating integration and unification of eFACTS. The office is being guided by a three-year plan that started in 2016; specific deliverables are due at each year end, and the plan is subject to periodic review and change by the eFACTS Change Advisory Board.
For more background about the Appellate Courts Technology Solutions, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives (Page 50 - PDF version).
The 9/11 tragedy galvanized the courts system’s development of branch-wide policies and procedures for anticipating and managing emergencies that can disrupt court operations: within a few months of the terrorist offensives, then Chief Justice Charles Wells established the Work Group on Emergency Preparedness and directed it to “develop a plan for the State Courts System to better respond to emergency situations.” He urged the workgroup to be guided by two policy goals: protect the health and safety of everyone inside the courts, and keep the courts open to ensure justice for the people.
After the work group’s recommendations were approved, each court identified its mission-essential functions; developed a preparedness plan that includes emergency and administrative procedures as well as a continuity of operations plan; and designated an emergency coordinating officer, a court emergency management team (to maintain court operations in a disaster situation), and a public information officer (to assist in the coordination of emergency response activities and provide information to, and answer questions from, the media and the public). At the same time, the supreme court established the United Supreme Court/Branch Court Emergency Management Group to recommend policy for, prepare for, and respond to emergencies both in the supreme court building and in state courts across Florida. For more background about the judicial branch’s emergency management measures, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives (Page 54 - PDF version).
Emergency management comprises preparation for unpreventable natural disasters such as tropical storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and pandemics. It also signifies being prepared for human-made calamities such as oil spills, biohazards, extended information systems outages, and military or terrorist attack-related incidents. Central to the judicial branch’s constitutional mandate to be open to every person for redress of any injury is the safety and security of court users who are conducting business in court facilities, judicial officers, and court personnel. Thus preparing for threats and emergencies is an ongoing responsibility. One of the branch’s recent endeavors is the creation of the Task Force on Appellate Court Safety and Security, established by the supreme court in September 2015. Chaired by Supreme Court Marshal Silvester Dawson, this task force has been developing standards and best practices relating to the safety of the supreme court and the DCAs; among the issues it addresses are security staffing models and levels, safety policies and practices, security personnel qualifications and training, site hardening, weapons and other security equipment, dignitary protection, state and federal regulations affecting safety in appellate court facilities, and disaster preparedness. (This link goes to the administrative order currently shaping the work of the task force.)
Another recent endeavor is the Trial Court Security Workgroup, established by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga in August 2016 under the umbrella of the Judicial Management Council. Increasing incidences of mass violence prompted the Judicial Management Council to recommend that trial court security be its next area of focus, and it proposed the creation of a workgroup to direct its attention to security standards of operation and best practices. Chaired by Judge Margaret Steinbeck, Twentieth Circuit, this workgroup is evaluating security procedures, practices, and perceptions at Florida’s courthouses; reviewing national courthouse security procedures and consulting with professionals and experts on model practices; identifying important elements of security in trial court facilities; developing standards, model procedures, and recommendations for appropriate training; establishing criteria for a statewide reporting system for security incidents; and identifying effective partnerships and opportunities for partnerships in providing and promoting security in courthouses. (Take this link to read the press release announcing the creation of this workgroup.)
Generally, the emergencies that buffet Florida are weather-connected (the Sunshine State, called the most hurricane-prone state in the nation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been pounded by 40 percent of the hurricanes that have hit the US). After nearly 11 years since Hurricane Wilma battered Florida (October 2005), two afflicted the state in late 2016: Hurricane Hermine struck the Florida Panhandle in September, and Hurricane Matthew assaulted the east coast in October. Out of an abundance of caution, and to ensure the safety of judges, court staff, and court users, numerous courts had to close for a few days until power was restored and cars could once again safely navigate the tree-limb-strewn streets. Emergencies of any sort expose areas that can use improvement, and these hurricanes prompted court emergency management team members to review their continuity of operations plan and make necessary adjustments to ensure that their court is as prepared as possible to respond to crises, recover from them, and mitigate against their impact.
To support emergency preparedness efforts in courts across the state, Steven Hall, the chief of OSCA’s General Services Unit and the branch’s statewide emergency coordinating officer, organizes monthly conference calls for all the courts system’s emergency coordinating officers. Recent topics include updating continuity of operations plans, site hardening, power outages, problems associated with courts’ reliance on internet-based phone service (problematic when power is lost), and establishing sound strategies for communicating with staff when emergency situations arise. He also continues to update and expand the emergency preparedness resources available on the Florida courts intranet and internet sites. The information and resources on these page are intended to keep judges and court staff informed about preparedness efforts at work and to provide tips and tools they can use at home to keep themselves and their families safe.