2016-17 Annual Report
Issue 4: Modernize the Administration of Justice & Operation of Court Facilities
People count on their courts system to be effective, efficient, and convenient; they expect that due process will be followed, that disputes will be resolved justly and in a timely manner, and that useful information will be available to them promptly and without undue expense. To meet these expectations, Florida’s courts system—which disposed more than 3.4 million cases on average over each of the last five years—must steadily find ways to improve the processes it uses 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. The security of judges, court personnel, and court users is also a fundamental concern, and the branch takes seriously its responsibility to keep the doors of the courthouse open while protecting the people inside the courts—as well as the court facilities themselves—from emergencies that could disrupt court operations and delay justice.
- Court Technology
- Emergency Preparedness
The Florida Trial Court Technology Strategic Plan | The Trial Court Performance Management Framework | The Integrated Trial Court Adjudicatory System| Shared Remote Interpreting | Electronic Florida Appellate Courts Technology Solution (eFACTS) | Mobile Technologies | Behind the Scenes
To advise the justices on matters relating to the use of technology in the judicial branch, the supreme court established the Florida Courts Technology Commission (originally called the Court Technology Users Committee) in 1995. Currently chaired by Judge Lisa Taylor Munyon, Ninth Circuit, this commission 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. (For information about the recent work of the commission, please see its 2017 annual report.)
Below is information about some of the courts system’s leading technology initiatives.
While the branch continues to make great strides in developing and implementing technology solutions to support people’s efficient and effective access to justice, it also faces some significant challenges. The paramount challenge is funding. Because funding for trial court technology falls under the jurisdiction of each of the 67 boards of county commissioners, technology resources differ from one county to another, resulting in inequities in the level of information and the services that the trial courts can provide. To address these disparities, in 2015, the Trial Court Budget Commission released, and the supreme court adopted, the Florida Trial Court Technology Strategic Plan 2015 - 2019. Identifying the critical business capabilities and the corresponding technological capabilities that the trial courts must have in order to function effectively, this plan offers a comprehensive solution to address the funding challenges as well as the future technology needs of the trial courts.
In 2018, through the legislative process, the judicial branch will continue pursuing funding to support its comprehensive technology plan for the trial courts. Specifically, to supplement the local funding that the counties provide for technology, the branch is requesting state funding, both non-recurring and recurring dollars. With a stable, statewide funding source, the branch would be positioned to allocate technology resources equitably, thereby ensuring that each of the 20 circuits has the basic, essential technology infrastructure in place to provide all Floridians with equal access to justice (this minimum level of technology services includes core function technology services and skilled staff needed to operate and maintain these systems). Also requested is funding for hardware and software to receive and manage case files electronically (the branch aims to build on its investment in the Court Application Processing System, or CAPS, which provides judges and court staff with electronic case file information and functionality needed to perform their adjudicatory function); funding for equipment and bandwidth to support branch efforts to expand its regional remote interpreting technology pilot, making remote court interpreting available statewide; and funding for refreshing and maintaining aging court reporting equipment (read more about CAPS and remote court interpreting below).
Applying performance measures to gauge the effectiveness and efficiency of court practices is a longstanding concept: Florida’s commitment to delivering fair and timely justice and to improving accountability to the public dates back to at least the 1990s, when the branch’s Judicial Management Council established the courts system’s first performance and accountability committees. These committees were charged with enhancing the performance of Florida’s courts and ensuring that they use public resources efficiently and in a way that people could understand.
This commitment to justice that is fair, timely, and accountable is ongoing. In 2014, the supreme court directed the Commission on Trial Court Performance and Accountability (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.” Through the development of such a framework, the judicial branch would be able to utilize emerging data collection methods to improve the trial court system’s capacity to measure its performance and to apply results for procedural refinements, thereby enhancing service delivery in trial court services and programs.
To carry out this supreme court directive, the TCP&A established the Performance Management Workgroup, and in June 2016, the workgroup submitted Recommendations on a Performance Management Framework for Florida’s Trial Courts: Phase One, Foundations for a Performance Management Framework to the supreme court. To prepare this report, the workgroup envisioned what the branch would look like in 10 years and then worked backwards to try to determine what type of data collection system would be needed now to achieve that vision. The report describes the framework’s goal and scope, its essential element principles and administrative principles, and its long-term objectives. The supreme court approved the recommendations and charged the TCP&A with continuing its development of the performance management framework. The workgroup is now focused on setting baseline data and benchmarks for three critical measures: time to disposition, clearance rate, and age of active pending cases. It is also working on identifying additional measures for potential use at the state and local levels and on developing a process for correcting court data problems and errors.
With the advent of some of the technology initiatives delineated below (in particular, the components of the Integrated Trial Court Adjudicatory System—the Court Application Processing Systems, the Judicial Data Management System, and the Uniform Case Reporting System), the judicial branch aspires to have the ability to integrate case management technology at the local levels along with data standardization efforts at the state-level, thereby allowing for the meaningful analysis of case processes and timeliness—and culminating in greater transparency, accountability, and cost effectiveness.
The Commission on Trial Court Performance and Accountability (TCP&A) has also been given responsibility for spearheading technology-based strategies for moving cases more efficiently and effectively through the trial court process. In December 2012, the branch had a significant 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 should be collecting about the activity of the courts as well as the kind of system the branch would need to build in order to collect these data. The supreme court accepted the recommendations of the TIMS report in March 2013, and since then, the branch has been working on a series of small, self-contained projects that will eventually be “snapped together” to form an 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.)
The TCP&A has been monitoring the development of the two major components of the Integrated Trial Court Adjudicatory System: the Court Application Processing System, a local case management system for judges and case managers; and the Judicial Data Management Services System, a data management strategy that provides state-level data management services to all elements of the court system. The TCP&A is also overseeing the evolution of the Uniform Case Reporting System: a sub-component of the Judicial Data Management Services System, this reporting system is designed to capture, from the clerks of court, specific case activity data, providing crucial workload information to all levels of court. These three projects are described below.
~The Court Application Processing System (CAPS) allows trial judges and their staff to work electronically on cases across many devices and data sources—and in any location (in court, in chambers, and beyond). Using CAPS, judges and their staff can search, access, and work on electronic case files and related information in the course of managing cases, scheduling and conducting hearings, adjudicating disputed issues, and recording and reporting judicial activity. By enabling judges to view and search e-filed documents immediately, to produce and disseminate orders electronically (CAPS pre-populates key information), and to receive alerts when documents are ready for electronic signature, CAPS improves the courts system’s operational efficiency. CAPS also reduces the massive flow of case files that move back and forth among the judge, case manager, and clerk of court.
Because CAPS has the potential to serve as the foundation for a fully automated trial court case management system, statewide implementation is essential. Substantial progress has already been made: during the branch’s 2013 – 15 Foreclosure Initiative, many circuits purchased CAPS to support judicial efforts to resolve the backlog of foreclosure cases (CAPS were purchased with a portion of the national foreclosure settlement funds that lawmakers earmarked for court technology enhancements during the crisis). As of January 2018, 61 of Florida’s 67 counties have deployed CAPS in either the civil or criminal division or in both divisions.
~The Judicial Data Management Services System (JDMS) is a state-level data processing and analysis system that will be able to pull court activity data from multiple sources and integrate them into a coherent whole; generate reports on clearance rates, case inventory, and age of cases; and support branch efforts to manage operations and resources (e.g., caseload allocation, deployment of court interpreters) more efficiently. By providing the branch with meaningful data and analysis, the JDMS will improve adjudicatory outcomes through case management and program evaluation; increase operational efficiency through the use of shared resources; and support supreme court efforts to establish organizational priorities through legislative resource and budget requests. The courts system’s collection and management of foreclosure data for the 2013 – 15 Foreclosure Initiative was “proof of concept” for this project, and lawmakers showed their support for it during the 2015 legislative session, appropriating funding for staff augmentation, software development, licensing, hardware, and equipment for the development of the JDMS project.
Current JDMS project goals include establishing a solid foundation for supporting court activity data management at the state level through the enhancement of existing infrastructure and the addition of staff and support elements; and expanding case inventory and case aging statistics from the foreclosure case type to all case types.
~The Uniform Case Reporting System (UCR) is a data collection project designed to capture the case activity data that the judicial branch deems necessary for achieving process improvement. This project was galvanized 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 another offspring of the judicial branch’s Foreclosure Initiative, implemented from 2013 – 2015 to help judges reduce the glut of backlogged foreclosure cases. The initiative included the development of a data collection plan that tracked and monitored case activity data (e.g., specific cases filed, specific cases disposed, and specific cases 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 vital information concerning the movement of foreclosure cases through the courts.
In April 2016, the supreme court issued an administrative order that revised and expanded—to all case types—the clerk of court data reporting requirements that had been implemented for foreclosure cases. The order also directed the clerks of court to increase the data elements, thereby providing the courts with additional information about courts system workload (on case inventory and status assignment, summary reporting system case type and disposition assignment, and post-judgment re-open and re-closure activity for all case types), and to electronically transmit the data to the Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) directly through an approved interface. (Take this link to read the administrative order regarding the revised uniform case reporting requirements.)
The UCR project has been making headway in the judicial branch’s data collection endeavors. To ensure the quality and timeliness of the information being collected, the branch is using web services (Florida’s judicial branch is one of the first to implement a data streaming infrastructure). Web services enable the easy, near real-time exchange of case activity event data, regardless of the data applications or systems being used (in other words, the clerks’, circuits’, and OSCA’s systems can “talk to” one another). The branch has already developed its web service and is beta testing it: internal testing is complete, and OSCA is now performing connectivity testing with the pilot counties. Currently, the 20 clerks of court are working to transition to UCR reporting, and full reporting by all clerks of court and for all divisions is expected by 2020.
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 improving the availability and containing the costs of interpreting resources while maintaining accuracy.
According to US Census Bureau statistics (2015), 28.1% of Florida’s residents speak a language other than English at home, with 11.7% of them speaking English “less than very well.” For people whose English language skills are limited, court interpreting services are essential in ensuring their constitutional right of access to justice. However, the branch continues to face challenges in addressing the increased needs for quality interpreting services, given the short supply of qualified interpreters (while large population centers may be home to a substantial number of interpreters, rural areas of the state typically lack the same resources, for instance). By embracing technology, Florida’s courts system can minimize these challenges. The shared use of remote interpreting services, through enhanced technological communications, represents an opportunity for courts to significantly improve interpreter services 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.)
Chaired by Mr. Thomas Genung, trial court administrator for the Nineteenth Circuit(third from right), the Shared Remote Interpreting Workgroup made recommendations to the supreme court regarding the business processes associated with sharing remote interpreting resources via the assisted use of technology. In 2017,the workgroup—which comprised a large, diverse, and highly collaborative group of participants—was honored with a Prudential Productivity Award and an Excellence in Technology Award.
As early as 2010, several circuits began preliminary explorations of sharing remote interpreting services; then in 2014, with funding from the legislature, the branch formally expanded this pilot effort: five circuits began sharing remote interpreting resources, and OSCA housed the call manager. The success of this pilot prompted the supreme court to create the Shared Remote Interpreting Workgroup, which developed a business model for sharing remote interpreting across circuit jurisdictions. Among its proposals, the workgroup suggested the creation of a governance committee to make recommendations to the TCP&A, the Court Interpreter Certification Board, and the Trial Court Budget Commission about matters relating to shared remote interpreting services.
Chaired by Chief Judge Elizabeth Metzger, Nineteenth Circuit, the Shared Remote Interpreting Governance Committee, created by the supreme court in December 2016, is responsible for establishing the statewide court interpreting pool for remote interpreting and developing recommendations regarding additional funding needs, collecting workload data and needs-based funding information, and overseeing administrative/management issues associated with shared remote interpreting. Among its current projects, the committee is considering adding functionality to enable communication among multi-point connections (a single point-to-point call connects a remote interpreter to one courtroom at a time; a multi-point call would connect a remote interpreter to two courtrooms at a time, e.g., a courtroom and a jail courtroom concurrently).
The appellate courts are also eager to embrace 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 (e-filing). The appellate courts have been participating in two e-filing and case management solutions: electronic Florida Appellate Courts Technology Solution (eFACTS) and iDCA/eDCA.
iDCA/eDCA was originally developed by the First District Court of Appeal (DCA) for workers compensation cases. It is closely connected to the court’s existing case management system and includes e-filing, document management, and tasking features designed for the appellate process. It comprises three closely linked sites: Internal DCA, an internal component for document management for use by judges and law clerks; External DCA, a portal for the transmittal of all filings with the court; and the Case Review system. It has been successfully deployed at all five DCAs.
eFACTS, developed by OSCA’s Office of Information Technology, was piloted at the supreme court and the Second DCA. It is a Microsoft web-based application that includes document management; electronic tasking and voting; tracking of administrative matters, assignments, and working documents; report and document generation; public on-line dockets; and secure access to case information. It also accommodates filing through the Florida Courts e-Filing Portal. (This link goes to more information about e-filing through the portal.)
In 2017, modifications were made to begin unifying eFACTS and iDCA/eDCA; the enhancements, which capitalize on the best features from all applications, move the supreme court and the DCAs toward a uniform case management system. The 2017 modifications included the retirement of the older case management system in the DCAs, file storage unification between eFACTS & iDCA/eDCA, and an advanced recusal tracking module. In addition, the Office of Information Technology improved the system’s security and performed a major refresh of the server hardware and database technology for both projects. (For more background about the Appellate Courts Technology Solutions, please see the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives.)
Many of the technology initiatives discussed above were designed to monitor and measure court performance, to improve court processes and increase operational efficiencies, to reduce court costs, and generally to support the mission of the courts and those who work to carry out that mission. However, the branch is also focused on developing technology to better meet the needs of the people who use the courts. Its most recent innovation is the Florida Courts Help app.
Research shows that people are “increasingly connected to the world of digital information” via their smartphones or other mobile devices (Pew Research Center). For instance, 40 percent of smartphone owners use their mobile device to look up government services or information (Pew Research Center). This is no less true for court users. For instance, of the approximately two million unique visitors who access flcourts.org each year, almost one-third of them are using their mobile devices. Many of these visitors are self-represented litigants seeking family law forms—and the Florida Courts Help app responds to their need for mobile-friendly information. Developed by Office of the State Courts Administrator staff, under the direction of the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice, this app is a repository of resources for Floridians seeking a divorce, adoption, orders of protection, a name change, and other family law issues. The app provides people with access to 186 supreme court-approved family law forms that can be filled out on the device; links and contact information for help centers around the state; plain-language instructions and descriptions of first steps and next actions; and tips for a full range of legal help from multiple online resources, free and low-cost legal services, and lawyer referrals. The Florida Courts Help app is available at app stores, and links and instructions are also available at Help.flcourts.org.
Working diligently in the background on the bold initiatives described above is the courts system’s Office of information Technology Services (OITS), which plays a fundamental role in advancing computer-assisted information and communications technologies in state courts throughout Florida. In addition to providing support to those court technology initiatives, the OITS embarked on an Application Modernization Project to provide better response times, greater reliability, and an updated user interface for some applications; it created a Cross Jurisdiction Team to manage changes to and implementations of computer applications that are being utilized in circuits across the state; and it installed software that allows the office to monitor applications and system health in real-time, alerting the OITS at the first sign of problems or slowdowns.
Moreover, included within the OITS is a Support Services Team, which assists with court operations in all 93 courts statewide (67 county, 20 circuit, and five appellate courts plus the supreme court). Housed in OSCA, this team supplies and maintains reliable technical operations for servers, data storage, disaster recovery, security, mobile devices, phone support (Voice over Internet Protocol), teleconferencing, audio visual services, and all related networking infrastructure.
Lately, the Support Services Team has chiefly focused on modernizing/upgrading technology infrastructure, boosting technology security, and strengthening backup recovery and disaster recovery operations. Among the team’s recent infrastructure modernization efforts, for instance, it procured, configured, installed, and deployed new servers for the DCAs, greatly increasing processing capacity while enhancing continuity of operations ability for the courts. Nor did the old servers go to waste: repurposing them, the OITS created a development/testing/user acceptance environment in which OSCA staff can develop in-house applications and test them before making them available to users. The team also updated and added additional data storage capacity for the supreme court, the DCAs, and the disaster recovery site, responding to the ever-growing storage requirements both for daily operations and for the eFACTS application; moreover, the team upgraded, replaced, and relocated the wireless access points in the supreme court, the DCAs, and OSCA, considerably expanding the wireless footprint and the bandwidth available to mobile devices in these facilities. To heighten technology security, the team completed the deployment of next-generation firewalls at the supreme court, the DCAs, and OSCA. And to fortify backup and disaster recovery operations, it established a remote disaster recovery site and also deployed new backup/recovery appliances for the supreme court, the DCAs, and OSCA.
The team was also responsible for carrying out major technology relocation operations for three appellate courts: the Second DCA (its Lakeland courthouse was deemed a “sick building,” and judges and court personnel, along with all the technology infrastructure and equipment, were moved to temporary quarters in Lakeland and to the courthouse in Tampa); the Third DCA (technology infrastructure and equipment were relocated after the courthouse underwent extensive renovations); and the Fourth DCA (a brand new courthouse was constructed, so everything was transferred from the old to the new building). For each of these changes, the Support Services Team had to move server rooms, network infrastructure, desktops, phones, and all related equipment—while causing minimal disruption to court operations.
The 9/11 tragedy jolted the courts system’s development of branch-wide policies and procedures for anticipating and managing emergencies that could disrupt court operations: within a few months of the terrorist attacks, then Chief Justice Charles Wells established the Workgroup 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: to protect the health and safety of everyone inside the courts and to keep the courts open to ensure justice for the people. For he recognized that the security of the facility and of everyone in it—the court users who are conducting business in the building, and the judicial officers and court personnel who are working in the building—is central to the judicial branch’s constitutional mandate to ensure that justice is administered without delay. (More background about the branch’s emergency preparedness measures is available in the Short History of Florida State Courts System Processes, Programs, and Initiatives.)
Emergency management encompasses preparation for unpreventable natural disasters such as pandemics, tropical storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods (indeed, the emergencies
For instance, soon after the supreme court approved the 2002 report of the Workgroup on Emergency Preparedness, each court identified its mission-essential functions and developed a preparedness plan (which includes emergency and administrative procedures) as well as a continuity of operations plan. Furthermore, each court designated a court emergency management team (to maintain court operations in a disaster situation), an emergency coordinating officer, 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). In addition, 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.
More recent endeavors include the supreme court’s 2015 creation of the Task Force on Appellate Court Safety and Security, chaired by Supreme Court Marshal Silvester Dawson. The task force is charged with constructing standards and best practices relating to the safety and security of the supreme court and the five District Courts of Appeal. Specifically, it is responsible for addressing security staffing models and levels; safety policies and practices; security personnel qualifications and training; site hardening; weapons and other security equipment; dignitary protection; implementation of ADA Standards for Accessible Design and other state and federal regulations affecting safety in appellate court facilities; and disaster preparedness. During the 2016 – 17 fiscal year, the task force developed a methodology for determining appellate court security staffing levels and for ascertaining the basic complement of security equipment that should be available at each of the appellate courts. And to ensure high-level performance, the task force began reviewing training programs relevant to the work of the appellate courts: it has been surveying the training needs of appellate court officers and security personnel as well as researching and reviewing the training programs available (including those being used in other states), with an eye toward recommending a list of training topics and programs, a plan for offering them, and a projection of the additional resources that may be necessary to develop or support them. (This link goes to the administrative order governing the work of the Task Force on Appellate Court Safety and Security.)
In addition, in August 2016, under the auspices of the Judicial Management Council, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga established the Trial Court Security Workgroup. Chaired by Judge Margaret Steinbeck, Twentieth Circuit, this workgroup was conceived to address goal 4.1 of the long-range plan: “Protect all judges court personnel, court users, and facilities through effective security, emergency preparedness and continuity of operations plans.” More immediately, its creation responds to the increasing incidences of mass violence and anti-government violence across the globe. (To read more about the responsibilities of this workgroup, please see the above article on the Judicial Management Council.)
Moreover, to support emergency preparedness efforts in courts across the state, Mr. Steven Hall, 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. Not surprisingly, most of the preoccupying topics in 2016 and 2017 were hurricane-related. After a record 11 years without a landfall, Florida was hit with two hurricanes in late 2016: Hermine struck the Panhandle in September; Matthew buffeted the east coast in October. Then in September 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys: the storm, 400 miles wide, wreaked havoc as it journeyed up the backbone of the state, razing neighborhoods, flooding vast portions of Northeast Florida, and knocking out power to millions of residents. Courts had to close in every part of the state.
He also stressed the importance of communication during an emergency. Irma forced most of the state courts to test their emergency communication plans—but widespread power outages and the controlled shutdown of the courts system’s statewide network disrupted many of these plans. Nonetheless, “Courts were able to tweak their communication methods during the situation to adapt to the current reality,” switching to cloud-based email systems, cloud-based apps, and text messaging to communicate. Along these lines, he also noted the critical role that social media played in keeping judges and court personnel informed: leading up to the storm, during its onslaught, and for days after it left the state, Facebook and Twitter were often the most reliable means—and sometimes, the only means—of interchange, reinforcing the importance of social media as a communication tool, especially during crisis situations. He also underlined the importance of conducting local and statewide conference calls: “Leading up to the event and for days after, these calls provided valuable information to assist in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the hurricane.”
Finally, he pointed out that emergencies expose areas that can use improvement, and these hurricanes prompted court emergency management team members to review their preparedness plan and 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. Issues that Irma brought to light have led to additions to the list of items for inclusion in individuals’ and units’ preparedness kits (manuals, copies of policies, particular supplies, etc.); to revisions to the checklists for various processes and procedures (especially those not done often); and to improvements in strategies for facilitating timely, adequate communication and reporting.