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Using Court Data to Inform Pandemic Planning

September 22, 2021

“Using Court Data to Inform Pandemic Planning,” which appeared in Trends in State Courts, discusses optimizing data to better understand and plan for pandemics now that this one is fresh in mind. The six areas detail lessons learned, quantifying the impact of the pandemic and planning for the next phase.

Having a Continuity of Operations Plan (“COOP”) for emergencies, like a pandemic, is important, but that plan must be reviewed and tested regularly to ensure the plan still works. “Through regular testing and review, agency personnel can evaluate for any preparedness gaps and implement new procedures as necessary to have an effective COOP plan.”

The six areas discussed are time, jury trial consideration, e-filing usage, measuring in-person and remote proceedings, online document access and procedural fairness. Time measurement is very important because courts can differentiate between “essential” and “non-essential” matters to prioritize those that cannot wait during an emergency. In the area of jury trials, the authors state how best to address the major disruptions are still being debated, but the two significant data points to consider are cancellation of jury trials and jury yield.

Tools that have been particularly helpful during the pandemic in many state courts are e-filing and remote proceedings. Courts should gather usage data of each. E-filing systems have helped avoid in-person contact during the pandemic because of the ability to send, file, receive and view official documents online. Differentiating between in-person and remote proceedings should also be part of emergency planning. In the area of online document access, the authors suggest that courts gather online access data to court documents while the court is closed. Another important dataset is data related to procedural fairness considerations.

Some examples of how courts could use data to review and improve their emergency plans are to determine which tasks must be done in-person from ones that can be accomplished remotely and to analyze cases and the times from the beginning of the pandemic onward to help uncover trends. Insights could help in establishing policies and procedures to better serve litigants in a crisis going forward. “During extraordinary times, the courts need to use data to keep the wheels of justice turning effectively.”

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