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Alternative hours of operation offer additional access to justice

Alternative hours of operation offer additional access to justice

April 19, 2023 -- While many conversations around post-pandemic delivery of services have centered on technology and remote hearings, some courts are also evaluating their operating hours to increase access to justice.

Extending court services and proceedings outside the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday may reduce backlogs, improve public trust and confidence, and provide greater scheduling flexibility for court users, according to new guidance from NCSC.

“The access team is always looking for ways to help courts meet people where they are to expand access to justice. Something as simple as extending hours of operation can make the difference as to whether someone participates in their legal proceedings or not,” said NCSC Court Management Consultant Andy Wirkus.

The Alternative Court Hours Toolkit explores the benefits of extended hours—which may include weeknights, early mornings, weekends—and provides recommendations on how courts should proceed with implementation.

NCSC surveyed 22 jurisdictions to distill the following recommendations:

  • Create a targeted advertising strategy by leveraging court notices, websites, partner agencies, public gathering places and other government agencies to promote new operating hours.
  • Consider various methods for providing alternative hours such as setting hours based on appointments, encouraging pre-work before court hearings, limiting the types of cases being heard, and relocating to a satellite location closer to your intended audience.
  • Be flexible and adaptable with your program since there is no “one-size- fits-all” solution.

The toolkit, which was produced with the support of the Pew Charitable Trusts, includes examples of courts that offer alternative hours for different case types such as traffic, domestic violence and small claims, along with specific types of proceedings like preliminary arraignments and bond hearings. A recent Trending Topics article also cites current and historical examples of night court in New York.

If your court is considering alternative court hours, email Andy Wirkus for more information.

ICM announces 53rd Fellows class

Thirteen court professionals have been selected to participate in the 53rd class of the Institute for Court Management (ICM) Fellows, which begins with an official welcome and opening class session on May 3.

Representing six states and courts ranging from municipal to appellate jurisdictions, the candidates are Erin Osterman Ballos (Ariz.), Robin Cummings (Md.), Obiora Dallah (Md.), Blanca Escobedo (Calif.), Marina Fevola (Md.), Melissa Lahey (Md.), Sarah Mathews (Mich.), Heather Miller (Md.), Chad Peace (Texas), Brittany Pelly (Ariz.), Valerie Pompey (Md.), Anna Smythers-Stitt (Va.), and Kevin Tucker (Md.).

The 53rd class will be the first to learn in an updated single-track model that blends virtual and in-person learning. The program will include a weeklong residential experience at NCSC headquarters in Williamsburg and conclude with a graduation ceremony at the Supreme Court of the United States.

“We’re excited to launch this new approach to the ICM Fellows program,” said John Meeks, NCSC vice president for the Institute for Court Management. “Lessons learned over the past few years have really prepared us for a more robust learning experience that leverages the benefits of both virtual and in-person interaction for meaningful bonding and relationship building.”