Friday, September 21, 2018

From Probate Judge to State Court Administrator: How Milt Mack's Problem-Solving Approach is Putting a National Spotlight on Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System

By MSC Office of Public Information

To Milton Mack, Jr., probate court is not just a place to settle estates -- it's truly another kind of problem-solving court.

MiCOURT Reminders: Got Court? Get a Text Message Reminder!

By Courtney J. Schrader, Software Product Owner, Judicial Information Services
and Meg Green, Experience Architect, Pillar Technology

Appearing for scheduled court dates.  Paying your ticket by the due date.  Filing the right paperwork for your grandma’s estate on time.  With the new MiCOURT Reminders tool, you can now receive court-related reminders as text messages just like the dentist, coach, and the grocery store send.

Value to the Public/Value to the Court
Depending on the court process and the type of case, a missed hearing may result in a default judgment, a bench warrant, and additional court fees.  Missing payment deadlines may result in a court date (which, if missed, becomes a bench warrant) and late fees.  Of course, an active warrant leaves you subject to arrest at any time.  One of the main goals of MiCOURT Reminders is to decrease the number of these “no-shows” for court dates and improve timely compliance with court orders.

Another goal of MiCOURT Reminders is to reduce the amount of time clerks spend handling cases when someone does not pay or appear.  In some courts, there is at least one staff member dedicated to calling people to remind them of their payment due date.  In addition, courts are spending $15,000 or more annually on postage to mail delinquent notices and bench warrants.  Improving the appearance rate using text message reminders should cascade into reduced costs through reduced mailings, while also freeing up some of the 5-8 hours that clerks spend preparing mail every week.  Other interested parties—victims, the media, attorneys—can also be notified of hearing dates through MiCOURT Reminders.  Each person who knows they will receive a text reminder is one less person who needs to call the court.

The text reminder does not replace the required “Notice to Appear” form that is often provided weeks or months before the court date.  By sending a text reminder a few days before the hearing, we hope to improve the overall appearance rate, similar to that seen in a program in New York City that reduced failure-to-appear rates by more than 25 percent through the use of text messaging.

Why Text Messaging?
Research shows that at least 50 percent of people surveyed preferred receiving communication through text messaging versus a phone call.  Also, when available, approximately half of those surveyed opted to receive text messages from companies even when the messages were advertising based.  Other top reasons for signing up for text message services included personalized messaging and reducing the need to call or visit a website to obtain information.

How it Works
The MiCOURT Reminders service, offered by Judicial Information Services (JIS), will send a text reminder two business days before a scheduled hearing date; this timing allows parties to make work or childcare arrangements if necessary.  Currently in pilot with the 54B District Court in East Lansing, reminders can be sent to anyone who signs up for any public case.  The clerks are offering to sign up defendants when they appear for arraignments and pretrials or call to request informal hearings.  In some cases, both the defendant and their attorney have signed up for the reminders.  Reminders can also be sent for civil cases, which may be very helpful for people representing themselves (e.g., college students in landlord-tenant cases).

When someone signs up in a court, they will receive a consent request message.  A response of “Yes” or “Start” is required to receive reminders.  Two business days before a scheduled hearing, the application compares the calendar with all the cases and phone numbers signed up for hearings and then sends hearing reminders after court hours through an automated job.  Each message includes the case number, hearing description, date/time, and court location (court number and city).  If someone later signs up for more cases or additional reminder types from the same court, he or she will receive a confirmation message listing the case number(s), but the initial consent still applies.  The court staff has the ability to remove phone numbers from individual cases, but to stop all messages from a specific court the phone owner simply replies “Stop” or “Cancel” to any previous message.

We plan to add payment due reminders in the near future, followed by making the service available to circuit and probate courts with additional reminder types based on the unique needs of the court customers.  Other potential features include customizing the timing and content of messages per hearing type, notifying subscribers of rescheduled (adjourned) hearings, and ad hoc instant messaging in the event of an unplanned court closure (e.g., due to a power outage).

Value Realized
More than 350 people have signed up for reminders through D54B in East Lansing since late April, mostly for hearings on traffic and criminal cases.  As of early August, nearly 400 hearing reminder messages were sent.  At the end of July, the 44th District Court in Royal Oak was added.  In the first two weeks the court signed up more than 100 people to receive reminders.  It is still too early to quantify a reduction in failure-to-appear rates and the associated processing work required; however, the program has proven to be very popular so far with more than 90 percent of case parties signing up for reminders.

How We Did It
MiCOURT Reminders is the newest member of MiCOURT Suite Tools, a collection of applications with a mission to provide small but powerful pieces of value to courts using JIS’s case management systems.  The existing tools include Calendar Integration for displaying a read-only version of the judges’ calendars from the case management system in Outlook or a mobile phone; Court Display with Public URL to display the court’s schedule on screens in the courthouse and/or the court’s website; a digital court recording integration (DCR Integration); and MiCOURT Case Search, a publicly available record search.

Developed using Agile principles, the development team built the initial application in less than three months before partnering with East Lansing’s 54B District Court to pilot and test the service.  Staff at D54B provide regular feedback through a product owner, who then turns this feedback into new features for the development team to incorporate into the application.  Features are evaluated and prioritized based on value to the courts, complexity, and location in the overall road map for MiCOURT Reminders.  Our pilot partners also participate in usability testing, a process where we present a mocked up version of a new feature before the developers start work to help ensure we are delivering the most valuable features first.

How to Get It
MiCOURT Reminders is currently in pilot phase for courts using JIS’s District Court case management system (DCS).  The application should be available for additional district courts in mid- to late-Fall.  As further development is completed, courts using the TCS, PCS, and CCS case management systems will be able to sign-up for the service; however, we don’t have a specific date for these courts yet.  Courts interested in signing up for MiCOURT Reminders should contact the JIS Service Delivery team ( or 888-339-1547) to be added to the list.

Unique Foster Care Funding Structure Provides 'Hope to Work Better and Smarter for Kids'

By Kristyn Peck, CEO of West Michigan Partnership for Children

One year ago Michigan launched its first performance-based, case rate funding model through a five-year pilot project run by West Michigan Partnership for Children (WMPC).  The goal of the project is to improve outcomes for children in foster care and their families.

62B District Court, Legal Assistance Center Partner to Offer Self-Guided Legal Help

By Deborah Hughes, Executive Director, Legal Assistance Center, Grand Rapids

The innovative 62B District Court in Kentwood has created a new way to support self-represented litigants.  Chief Judge William G. Kelly and Court Administrator Michele White envisioned a place at D62B where self-represented litigants can easily find forms, resources, and online tools to assist them in using the court services and solving legal problems on their own.

Six Years and Counting: The Story of the Michigan Legal Help Program

By Ramzi Badwi, Program and Outreach Coordinator, Michigan Legal Help

The Legal Climate in 2010

On August 17, celebrated its 6th birthday!  In honor of that milestone, this article will explore the origin of Michigan Legal Help (MLH) and how far it has come since then. 

Child Protection Mediation Program

By Dr. Jane Millar, Ph.D., Executive Director, Northern Community Mediation

In 1998 the federal Court Improvement Program (CIP) recommended that states test whether mediation could be effective in expediting the process of moving alleged child abuse and neglect cases to adjudication. The rationale was that by doing so, the safety, stability, well-being and permanency placement of the child would be achieved sooner rather than later. This conclusion was based upon a collaborative effort among court personnel, child welfare agencies, attorneys, and other stakeholders.

Judicial Leaders Make History

By MSC Office of Public Information

For the first time in history, the leaders of the Michigan Judges Association (MJA), the Michigan District Judges Association (MDJA), the Michigan Probate Judges Association (MPJA), and the Judicial Section Council (JSC) of the Sate Bar of Michigan, are all women.