Login | October 21, 2020

Court task force to study the ‘new normal’ in remote court operations

Technology for Lawyers

Published: October 16, 2020

Spurred by the necessity of developing “on-the-fly” remote solutions for court processes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ohio Supreme Court has authorized and appointed a 25-member task force dedicated to discovering and sharing the best practices in online court procedures.
Supreme Court Justice R. Patrick DeWine, who is the court’s liaison to the task force, said that his deep interest in technology and his experiences in local political leadership give him the background to help lead the task force.
Plus, he said, “I brought the idea to the chief.”
The task force is being chaired by Judge Rocky A. Coss of Highland County Common Pleas Court and Magistrate Serpil Ergun, administrator for judicial operations of the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court.
Judge Coss said that a primary job of the task force is to create a description of a “new normal” in court technology. He comes to this position with a wealth of service to the court and experience in court technology.
Almost immediately upon taking the bench in 2008, Judge Coss said that he installed video conferencing with the jail, expanding uses of technology in the court over time.
In a small county court, Judge Coss has been able to personally supervise the deployment of technology in the court and become intimately familiar with its effects. It is that on-the-ground knowledge of court technology that he will bring to understanding the “new normal.”
In contrast to Judge Coss’s small county court, Magistrate Ergun has served for more than 30 years on the largest domestic relations court in Ohio, which she said gives her her a large view of the interrelationships between the courts and the people using court technology.
In her court, “everything is online anyway,” she said, including videoconferencing, online signatures and even a “pilot program for online notarization” started earlier this year.
The task force, she said, needs to look beyond just the COVID disaster and use their findings to plan responses to other disasters that lurk around the corner.
Justice DeWine himself was instrumental in helping to create the task force in the first place, he said. He had published an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch* back on May 10 stating bluntly that, because of the pandemic, “there is no sugarcoating it. This is a tough time for our court system.”
Justice DeWine went on in the op-ed to state that the Supreme Court could function almost normally, but that local courts were often having a tough go of it.
On the other hand, he said it, “is not all bad news, though. During this strange time, many courts across the state have embraced technology and come up with innovative ways to continue to provide justice. Going forward, we need to look at what has worked and figure out how to incorporate what we have learned into our court system.”
Justice DeWine brought that thinking to Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, he said, and she gave the go-ahead to start this task force, appointing him the liaison to the task force for the court.
Under the published guidelines, the task force’s mandate is to “review Ohio courts’ use of technology to ensure the continued and effective operation of the judicial system during the COVID-19 pandemic and make recommendations regarding the use of such technology in the future.”
The task force’s duties, among others, will be to examine how state courts have used technology during the pandemic, particularly with remote hearings and other remote functions.
It also will survey judges and attorneys regarding their experiences with remote court processes to identify best practices for local courts along with the barriers and challenges to effectively use technology in the courts (like limited internet access, costs, equipment, etc.).
Other issues to be addressed include identifying practices to safeguard due process and access to justice when technology is in use , the possibility of remote criminal trials and potential future technologies and improvements.
The task force is now fully staffed, with 25 members representing every aspect of the court, overall legal processes and Ohio geography (although notably lacking legal technology columnists).
Members on the task force within the Legal news’ readership include Judge Theresa Dellick of the Mahoning County Juvenile Court, Court Administrator Robert Incorvati, ot the Barberton Municipal Court and Magistrate Kenneth R. Teleis of the Summit County Domestic Relations Court.
The task force began meeting (remotely) in October and is to submit a report to the Supreme Court by June 30, 2021.
Justice DeWine said that technology to be looked at will include remote meetings and at least e-filing and even the use of SMS texting in the courts.
Whatever this task force finds, he said, this study is “just the tip of the iceberg.”
*Justice DeWine’s original op-ed can be found here: https://www.dispatch.com/opinion/20200510/column-covid-19-crisis-presents-opportunities-for-our-courts