Technology at Work in the Judicial Department
By Scott Clark
Maines Judicial Department has experienced slow but steady growth in the use
of technology to meet the needs of its employees and customers. Two recently completed
major projects are a "mail order" method of handling traffic tickets and the
deployment of laptop computers to all judges.
As the third branch of state government, the Judicial Department is perhaps the
least understood. Unless you have been a participant in the criminal justice process or a
participant in a civil legal action, you probably have a limited knowledge of the court
system. The department has a web site, (http://www.courts.state.me.us/)
, and I encourage you to take a look to access information about court locations, Law
Court opinions, a citizen's guide to the courts, etc. Before describing the technological
achievements in the courts, I think it is helpful to have a brief overview of the court
The Judicial Department consists of:
- 1 Law Court (also called the Supreme Court, which is the highest level of court),
- 16 Superior Courts,
- 31 District Courts,
- 1 Administrative Court,
- state wide mediation,
- child advocacy services,
- and several other services.
The justices of the Law Court hear appeals and other cases from the lower courts. The
Superior Courts are the courts of general jurisdiction. The justices of the Superior
Courts handle the more serious crimes and complicated civil actions. It is the only level
of court to have jury trials. The District Courts are the courts of limited jurisdiction.
The judges of the District Courts hear the initial appearance of defendants in criminal
cases, divorce and other family matters, as well as all juvenile cases.
The courts provide services in about 43 facilities throughout the state. These
facilities are located from Madawaska to York to Calais to Rumford. The facilities vary in
size, workload, and staffing. Court services are provided in those facilities by 52
justices and judges, 8 case management officers, 16 law clerks, and about 250 court
clerks. Approximately 40 administrative support people provide human resources, budgeting,
purchasing, accounting, liaison with the Executive and Legislative Departments,
statistical and information publication, and technology services.
The Office of Information Technology (OIT) is responsible for technology used within
the Judicial Department. Twelve of the 40 administrative support people work in OIT. The
staff includes 1 system administrator, 1 system analyst, 3 programmer analysts, 2 hardware
and network support people, 1 technology analyst (a court clerk), 1 technology trainer,
and 2 assistant trainers (court clerks on "loan" from the district courts).
Given the geography, number of people supported, and the critical nature of the
information services provided, the staff in OIT is always busy.
Starting in 1991, OIT developed an information system to support a major change in the
handling of traffic tickets. Violators of traffic laws for years had been allowed to pay
their fine to the court of jurisdiction with or without having to appear before a judge.
The defendant was required to call the court of jurisdiction for a fine amount. Each court
would process those cases similar to the way they processed criminal cases.
Working with a team of judges, clerks, police officers, and staff from the Bureau of
Motor Vehicles (BMV), that all changed. A "mail order" style operation was
established in a single location and the tickets were modified to include additional
information. The police officers were given fine booklets so they could quote fine amounts
on the ticket when it was handed out.
This project was a classic case of reengineering for process improvement. The
centralized processing of traffic cases improved customer service; and the district court
clerks were relieved of processing the high volume of traffic cases and were therefore
able to focus more attention on the growing backlog of more complicated criminal and civil
cases in their courts. Development team members visited the L.L. Bean mail order
processing center and modeled a number of the system functions on what was learned there.
Over the years the system has been enhanced to include electronic transfer of information
to and from BMV, contested case scheduling, and improved fine collection functions.
About 4 years ago a small group of judges were given laptop computers as a pilot
project. Most judges do not have secretarial support for writing opinions and decisions
and many of them travel monthly to several courts. Laptop computers were viewed as a way
to assist judges in accomplishing their critical work. In addition the laptop computers
provided a method for the judges to access e-mail and legal research materials. The pilot
project was a success, and the remaining judges were provided laptop computers during the
This deployment of computers was a significant undertaking for OIT. The distribution
and training for 52 judges who are dispersed throughout the state was a major logistical
and training effort. It also represented a significant commitment to ongoing support.
Apple Macintosh PowerBooks were the laptops selected. This selection was made because many
administrative staff and secretaries had Macs. Macs are easier to use and easier to
maintain than PCs. PC/Mac conversion issues have arisen occasionally. However, the Macs
have cushioned the impact of having only 1-2 people supporting the users of laptop
computers, which on any given day can be in any of those 43 facilities.
Laptop computers also have been provided for law clerks and certain court
administrative personnel. The number of desktop computers have also increased in the
courts. Today OIT supports about 80 laptop Macs, about 95 desktop Macs and 20 desktop PCs.
The larger systems, like the traffic case system and the case management systems, run on
12 UNIX servers which are deployed in the large courts and at the Maine Judicial Center.
The 12 UNIX servers have about 300 dumb terminals and 90 printers connected to them.
The Judicial Department currently has several projects underway. The most
significant is a common case management system for all courts, which will be described in
detail in Part II of this article.
If you have questions about technology within the courts call Scott Clark at
287-4645. He leads the Judicial Departments Office of Information Technology.