@TheCenter from NCSC


“Robot Lawyer” wins grand prize at CourtHack

NCSC’s inaugural CourtHack was held at the Utah state courts’ Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City, March 4 and 5. Teams of self-described “nerds” selected one of four challenges to tackle on opening night, knowing they had a 22-hour deadline to present their solutions.  At the end of their marathon coding sessions, 14 teams provided three-minute demos to the panel of CourtHack judges. The grand prize winners are a team of 17-year-old Brigham Young University students who developed a Chat Bot they call “Robot Lawyer.”  Their self-help SMS text app allows users to attach photos and documents that help explain their needs.  The app then answers questions in plain English and gathers data unobtrusively in the backend that is used to populate court forms. Robot Lawyer will present their app at e-Courts 2016 in Las Vegas in December. More details about the challenge sets, the panel of esteemed CourtHack judges, and the winning apps can be found at www.courthack.org.


CCJ/COSCA task force releases pandemic response guide for state courts

A guide on how courts can prepare for pandemic emergencies has been produced by a task force created by the Conference of Chief Justices. Preparing for a Pandemic. An Emergency Response Benchbook and Operational Guidebook for State Court Judges and Administrators, was created in response to the Ebola scare in 2014 and in preparation for any future pandemic emergencies, such as the current zika virus spread by mosquitos. The guide serves as a model each state can use to develop their own pandemic benchbook. The Conference of State Court Administrators partnered in the task force, and the guide also helps court administrators with pandemic preparedness, including court operations issues and training. A webinar held on March 16 to launch the guide was recorded and is available for viewing.


New Joint Technology Committee papers guide courts with tech advancements

NCSC’s Joint Technology Committee has released three papers to educate and train court leaders in technology. “Responding to a Cyberattack” provides a basic explanation of the preparations necessary for court managers to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a cybersecurity incident. “Implementing Judicial Tools” explains technology options and implementation considerations for courts planning a judicial tools initiative. “Managing Digital Evidence in Courts” identifies potential challenges and recommends steps courts should consider when receiving, evaluating, protecting, and presenting digital evidence, including video from body-worn cameras, private citizens, and other sources.


New NCSC report looks at veterans treatment courts

A recently released report about veterans treatment courts (VTC) details recommended court performance measures and suggestions for additional data that these courts should collect. The report, “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Veterans Treatment Court Performance Measures,” was researched and published  by NCSC staff Fred Cheesman, Michelle White, and Shelley Spacek Miller, and Courtney Broscious of  Eastern Connecticut State University, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania AOC. The measures were developed with input from Pennsylvania Veterans Treatment Court stakeholders and were reviewed by VTC statewide coordinators, as well as other experts.  The VTC measures share many standards with other problem-solving courts, as well as measures unique to VTCs, such as those related to the use of veteran mentors.


Nominations accepted for first Mary C. McQueen Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the first Mary C. McQueen Award for Excellence and Leadership in Justice System Improvement. The award—created in 2015 by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), the National Association for Court Management (NACM), and the National Association for Presiding Judges and Court Executive Officers (NAPCO)—will be presented biennially (every even-numbered year) starting in 2016. Mary McQueen has served as NCSC president since 2004 and throughout her career has been an advocate for court and judicial reform. This award will recognize an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to improving the administration of justice at the local, state, and/or national level. Please send nominations to Shelley Rockwell at srockwell@ncsc.org no later than May 1. For nomination information please go here.


NCSC reading room


The Jury in America: Triumph and Decline is both an “intellectual and political history” and an “institutional and policy analysis” of the American jury system. Dennis Hale (Department of Political Science, Boston College) traces the development of the jury, starting with its origins in the common-law juries of England and the American colonies, then looks at how juries evolved, along with the American legal system, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. He also examines the concept of the “Vanishing Jury” and questions about the institution’s relevance today. This book is available from NCSC’s Library.

What skills do court leaders need to respond to new challenges or establish new programs? This month’s Trends in State Courts article discusses why court administrators may find it useful to acquire the skills that an external consultant brings to a project.

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