Court Management is the role responsible for the oversight and coordination of routine trial court functions, minimizing disruptions to routine court operations, supervising trial support roles, and serving as the liaison to/with external stakeholders and resources including state Administrative Office of the Courts and local government officials. In some jurisdictions, this role will be performed by the Clerk of Court, the Court Executive Officer, or the Court Administrator.
Doing COOP planning before a high-profile case is at your doorstep will help alleviate some stress when one does. The steps outlined below will be useful to have in any high-profile case and will allow planning for the specific case to begin as soon as possible.
- Determine the critical roles needed for a high profile case team. This normally includes the trial judge, court management role (clerk of court, court administrator, administrative judge,) public information officer, IT, and security.
- Identify the people who will occupy the the critical roles in the case of a high profile trial.
- Document state and local statutes, rules, and orders regarding relevant issues to a high-profile case (television of proceedings, media access, change of venue, etc.) and keep copies of these rules in an easily accessible location.
- Assess the capabilities of the facilities, technology, and security to handle the increased pressures of a high profile trial, as well as how additional funding can be found if necessary for changes.
The increased demands of a high-profile case will often require the court to work with external stakeholders to handle the specifics of the case, maintain control of decorum, and finance additional resources. It is prudent that the court consider the following:
- Identify all agencies intersecting the Courts regarding logistical issues and establish direct lines of communication with all community partners who would be affected by a high-profile case. Partners will typically include local law enforcement (sheriff’s office and/or state or local police departments), county officials, town/city administrators, agencies or tenants located in the courthouse/courthouse complex, and grounds/facility director. Depending upon your situation a health inspector, fire official, and the mayor might also be included.
- In terrorism cases it might be beneficial to begin a dialogue with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other relevant federal agencies due to the increase in security demands.
- Serve as the liaison to state AOC, local government, local leadership (bar, community leaders, etc.) to address issues and resources regarding specific court support needs.
- Schedule and conduct an inter-agency logistical planning meeting as soon as possible if responding to a pending case and prior to each critical stage of the proceedings.
- Plan for how the court will alert external stakeholders to upcoming case events and plan for enough time to distribute drafts of any logistical memos with time for corrections, as this will serve as their link to the media.
A high-profile case can place extra demands on staff and create a stressful workplace. The following staff education considerations mitigate the stressors:
- Ensure that the entire court staff knows what their roles are and to whom to direct case specific questions.
- Delineate written responsibilities for each staff position. Include back-up personnel in this document. Conduct regular staff briefings to discuss issues, procedures, etc.
- Provide appropriate training and supervision to staff added during the high-profile trial. Ensure cross training of regular staff and temps so that there will be coverage as staffing demands change.
- Develop procedures to support employees with the stress and pressures that accompany high-profile trials. Eliminate as much inconvenience and as many disruptions as possible for those trying to conduct normal business with the court.
- Be responsive to changing staffing demands.
- Publicize how to contact the court's media point person to divert as much traffic as possible from the clerk's office. Also provide this contact information to all court employees.
- Assume that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
- Have procedures in place to deal with every conceivable emergency (i.e. power outage, plumbing problem, wireless outage, etc.) and make sure key personnel know what to do, with contact phone numbers available. For example, power outage, plumbing problems, wireless outage, etc. Any weakness in these systems will cause a break with increased demand.
- Determine if any facility devices (example: copiers, public access computers, etc.) should have limited or altered access during the course of the trial.
- Prohibitions on cell phones or other electronic devices can create excessive demands on access to public payphones in the courthouse, especially during trial recesses. Consider relaxing or suspending these rules during the high-profile trial.
- Work with the judge in drafting a Decorum Order to ensure logistically that all provisions can be facilitated and allowed, and that any necessary language is included.
- Act as the project director and coordinator throughout the development and implementation process till the end of the case.
- Identify critical personnel, technological infrastructures, internal and external communication networks, a chain of command, and necessary resources.
- Work with the clerk of court to prepare an analysis of whether the court has the personnel and monetary resources currently available to handle the added demands the system will be bearing.
- If a jury trial is anticipated, begin planning early for every detail from summons to time of verdict.
In the presence of a high-profile case, be sure as you move forward that other routine court business can still be conducted. The following considerations will help ensure the continuity of normal operations.
- If access to the courthouse will be significantly altered, communicate with local attorneys and others using the facility on a regular basis either directly or through a posting about modifications during days of proceedings.
- Ensure continuity of operations:
- Meet with court staff, other judges, and any other agencies located in the courthouse to coordinate daily workloads and routine work activities, and troubleshoot any issues that are likely to occur, such as noise/disruptions to other dockets; scheduling changes if staff have to be assigned to other courts; and notice for cases moved to other courtrooms.
- Ensure workload distribution and rearrange caseloads as necessary so that the added stress of the high- profile case does not put too much additional stress on any one person.
Essential to maintaining court operations during a high-profile case is the management and maintenance of court facilities. It is critical that the court management role work with the other members of the high-profile case team to ensure that the facilities can handle all the different aspects of a high-profile case.
- Detailed planning and strict enforcement of a seating plan will limit complaints. Work with the media relations person to determine what the allocation of seating in the courtroom among family, victims, press, and public will be. Consider where members of the defendant's family, victims of the crime (if not testifying as witnesses,) guests of the court, or other individuals will sit. For obvious reasons, members of the defendant's family should be seated away from victims of the crime.
- Work with the IT and security roles to ensure that the grounds can facilitate any increased needs due to the high-profile case.
- Consider if any modifications will need to be made to the courtroom to facilitate the needs of the parties, the media, the jury, etc.
- Ensure that a plan is in place both inside and outside of the courthouse to support the increased crowds a high-profile case draws.