NCSC works to address high-volume dockets, improve user experience

NCSC works to address high-volume dockets, improve user experience

High-volume court cases, such as debt collections, evictions and traffic, challenged courts before the coronavirus pandemic, and they’ll challenge them after it’s over. But the pandemic has also presented an opportunity to address these dockets.

Sensing that opportunity, the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators adopted a resolution that encourages state courts to make courts more efficient and user friendly. The pandemic has highlighted the need to make courts more user friendly by tackling access-to-justice issues, and many courts have responded.

“Courts routinely had these packed dockets of hundreds of cases where you’d be instructed to show up at 9 a.m. and wait until your case was called, and you had no idea when that would be,” said Zach Zarnow, an NCSC consultant who focuses on access to justice issues. “Now we have courts adopting block scheduling. It’s better for users. You might be told to show up at 9 a.m., like before, but you’ll probably be done a little after 10 because others are being told to show up at 10 or at 11.”

The majority of defendants who appear at these high-volume hearings come without lawyers and are unfamiliar with laws and the ways courts operate. Much of NCSC’s work is focused on helping courts find ways to assist these people, known as self-represented litigants.

This work extends beyond hearings to all interactions users have with courts in high-volume cases.

“We’ve worked with individual courts and in national efforts to encourage courts to adopt a range of technological tools to keep services available to the public," said Danielle Hirsch, NCSC’s interim Court Services director.

Recent examples of these efforts include:

  • Developing a tool called Traffic Pass to help drivers in Wyandotte County, Kan., who receive traffic tickets.
  • Designing a large self-help center for the court in Burlington, Vt.
  • Meeting with judges in Washington, D.C., about streamlining eviction, small claims and mortgage foreclosure cases.
  • Helping to redesign the Philadelphia Municipal Courts website to make it easier to use, including incorporating more plain language in court forms.
  • Producing 20 Tiny Chat videos related to various high-volume court types, including debt collection, evictions, child support, traffic, procedural fairness and fair housing.
  • Helping non-English speakers by planning a large-scale remote training session for court interpreters, designing signs and advising courts on their interpreter testing programs.
  • Developing resources for courts to address innovative case management approaches in high-volume case types.

This new CCJ/COSCA resolution urges its members to “continue pandemic-initiated reforms that have increased participation, efficiency and engagement in high-volume dockets, so that all court users—regardless of English proficiency, disability, socio-economic status, access to and ability to use relevant technology, or whether they are self-represented— are able to meaningfully engage in the justice system and are treated with dignity.”

Updated Judicial Salary Tracker available online

Judges and justices in about a dozen states received no pay increases in 2021, but eight to 10 states gave pay raises of between five percent and 11 percent, according to NCSC’s most recent salary survey.

The Judicial Salary Tracker, which includes data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories, shows states and territories gave no raises to supreme court chief justices and associate justices in 16 jurisdictions, appellate court judges in 12 jurisdictions and general jurisdiction court judges in 14 jurisdictions.

The large pay increases bumped up average raises nationwide to between 2.5 percent and 2.7 percent -- about one percentage point higher than in recent years.

Visit the Judicial Salary Tracker to read more about the rankings.