Sept 29

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Updated CourTools will include remote hearings

CourTools, which allows courts to gather information to help evaluate performance, is being updated to provide insight into users’ experience with remote hearings.

“After the measure has been updated, it will be more reflective of how court proceedings work in today’s world,” said NCSC researcher Andrea Miller, who is working on this project with researcher Erica Boyce.

The current version of the survey applies only to in-person court experiences. The new version will ask participants whether they had an in-person or remote court experience, or just used a court website. Then they will be directed to a set of questions that applies to how they used the courts.

Funded by the Ohio State Bar Foundation, the pilot testing will occur at courts in several counties in Ohio, including at many Courts of Common Pleas, which hear a large variety of cases. This variety will help researchers analyze whether remote proceedings, which have greatly increased during the pandemic, are working better for certain cases, and in courts in urban or rural areas. Meanwhile, NCSC is talking with court leaders in other states about piloting the survey, and researchers hope they’ll want to participate.

The pilot testing starts with NCSC customizing survey questions to individual courts, which will distribute the surveys. Researchers will focus on the responses that shed light on how remote proceedings compare to in-person proceedings related to access and fairness, and then determine whether any of the questions should be rewritten or dropped from the survey. During the pilot testing, courts will receive monthly data summaries about the users and their experiences.

Pilot testing will end by the spring, when Miller and Boyce will analyze the data and refine the survey, if necessary. And they’ll write a report for the Ohio Supreme Court that summarizes the findings and provides recommendations for improving access and fairness. Other states that participate, if any, will receive similar reports.

The current version of the CourTools survey is translated to Spanish only, but the updated version will be available in Arabic, Russian, Chinese and Somali in order to hear from more of those who have limited English proficiency.

“We want the new measure to reach as many court users as possible,” Miller said, “so having six different language versions will be a major improvement.”

Don’t miss Sept. 30 webinar on ‘remote-first, remote-friendly’ hearings

As everyone knows and as this scan shows, the pandemic forced state courts nationwide to dramatically increase remote hearings in order to better serve users.

Register now for an Implementation Lab webinar that starts at 3 p.m. ET Thursday to hear how courts are addressing issues related to remote hearings, including the digital divide, public access and participant safety. New Mexico Supreme Court Justice C. Shannon Bacon, Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Samuel A. Thumma and NCSC Vice President David Slayton, former Texas State Court Administrator, will also explain how courts in their states wrote guidelines to uphold virtual courtroom decorum and rules for making the record in a virtual environment.