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Appearance rate project challenges courts to address failures to appear

Appearance rate project challenges courts to address failures to appear

May 24, 2023 -- Courts in six states recently committed to adopt numerous new programs and methods to reduce nonappearance in their jurisdictions during an NCSC Appearance Rate Summit.

Earlier this year, NCSC launched a project supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts to help courts find solutions for missed court appearances. Six jurisdictions were chosen and invited to an April summit as part of the project. Summit participants learned from an array of experts from NCSC, Pew Charitable Trusts, Emily LaGratta Consulting, and ideas42 on topics such as why people miss court and how emerging practices are helping courts become more accessible to litigants.

“It was important for us to have a set of jurisdictions with varying characteristics - including size, demographic, and political diversity - so we can gauge how effective certain methods are in targeting different types of populations,” said NCSC Senior Court Management Consultant Mike Tartaglia. “We’ve worked directly with these courts to help them ensure people have the tools they need to get to court on time and avoid warrants for missed appearances, which can destabilize people’s lives and are costly to the legal system as a whole. I’m encouraged by the dedication shown by each of our participating courts, and excited to continue working with them and to see how well we do in knocking down barriers to appearance.“

Building on the presentations, participants worked together to identify a set of programs and methods to reduce nonappearance, including:

  • Revising court forms and websites;
  • Expanding the use of technology for virtual appearances and court date reminders; and
  • Reviewing policies and procedures regarding warrants.

In the months following the summit, NCSC will provide technical assistance to prepare and launch the newly identified initiatives.

Participating courts include: Buckeye Municipal Court (Ariz.); 10th Judicial Circuit-District Court, Jefferson County (Ala.); La Crosse Circuit Court (Wis.); Lincoln County District Court (Wash.); Richmond County State Court (Ga.); and the 16th Judicial Circuit Court, Kansas City Municipal Division (Mo.).

Kansas City Municipal Court Presiding Judge Courtney Wachal shared that one way her court works to improve accessibility is by having regular walk-in dockets for warrant recalls and virtual dockets. Through the court’s work with NCSC, they learned that fear is a primary reason for many missed court appearances.

“Our court is now working to promote a message of trust, fairness, and accessibility. Some of the ways we plan to do this include increased community outreach and rebranding,” she said. “At my most recent walk-in docket, I implemented an NCSC recommended strategy of making brief welcoming remarks where I told those present that I appreciated them being there and that I knew their time was valuable. The change in attitude of those present was obvious.”

To learn more about the project and ways your court can improve appearance rates, visit the NCSC website or contact Mike Tartaglia.

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