Adopting Technology to Speed Justice the Arizona Way

Topics: Access to Justice, Government, Justice Ecosystem: Workflow, Legal Innovation, State Courthouses

Arizona

Judge Charles Harrington knows Arizona’s turf —and court territory. He was appointed to the Pima County Superior Court Bench in 1999, and has served on the Civil, Juvenile and Criminal bench. He now serves as the Probate Bench Presiding Judge. (He’s also the uncle—and mentor—of Mark Britton, CEO of Avvo.)

For the last four years, Harrington has been testing aiSmartBench. “In part, it replaces paper files. It lays out, in a nice order, all of the cases that we have throughout the day on the monitor on our bench,” Harrington explained. “It’s very well organized and allows us to pull up our notes for a particular case or the particular issues to be heard that day.” The product was launched in 2011, by Mentis Technology Solutions, based in Colorado. In 2013, The Arizona Supreme Court selected the company to serve judges across all the state’s courts.

Harrington explained that the Arizona court system “has always been that we order case files from the clerk of the court to be brought to our chambers days before hearings or trials. On certain days that can be a lot of files — on certain benches that can be a lot of files every day.”

Arizona Justice Charles Harrington

The Pima County Superior Court plans to launch aiSmartBench this month, and Yavapai County went live in January 2016.) “The civil bench is going paperless,” said Harrington. “The clerk of the court will no longer deliver paper files except in extraordinary circumstances. The judges will be using aiSmartBench exclusively.”

Leaping the Abyss

It’s not the first time the Arizona courts have looked for creative ways to ameliorate pesky workflow problems. Arizona is a dramatic state with magnificent landscapes, but that blessing can also a curse for the many people who need to deal with the courts, Harrington explained on the Legal Talk Network podcast, American Bar Association National Summit: Focus on the Client.

Mohave County residents in the northwest corner of the state face a significant challenge when they need to go to a courthouse — thanks to Mother Nature. “The northern half of Mohave County is separated from Southern Mohave County by the Grand Canyon,” Harrington said. For northern residents to get to the county seat requires a car trip of 320 miles, or about 7½ hours, driving into Utah (near the Zion National Park) then sliding into Las Vegas, then twisting onto Highway 93 to get to Kingman.

Then came the magic — Arizona courts’ technology systems manager Kyle Rimel and his team had an idea. Based in Kingman, they created a remote kiosk, with video chat access, and set it up at the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles Beaver Dam office — about 70 miles from Colorado City’s North Canyon Consolidated Court. Travel time: 95 miles, or about 1½ hours.

“People can go to kiosk and talk directly to clerk of the court, pay traffic fines, download forms and print them; fill out forms online and print them,” noted Harrington. “It’s available for some audio conferences with court.” It’s expected to be expanded for video presentations routine hearings, he added.

The cost was about $7,000, and the idea’s originator, Rimel, was chosen as a 2015 Legal Rebel by the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal.

It’s a good guess that they only people who may be unhappy with the kiosks are the owners of gas stations along the old route.

Meanwhile, the Mohave County Courts have created a 2014-2018 Strategic Plan “with the goal of realizing our mission of delivering timely justice in an impartial, innovative and professional manner.” The “Serving the Public Action Steps” include “e-court” initiatives such as e-filing, e-payments, e-bench, EDMS, online access and facilitating e-transmission of information.­­