Utah courts battle to keep up

Lawmakers met May 21 to discuss the state of the Utah court system.

SALT LAKE CITY — Armed with iPads instead of paper, state judges are keeping up with court cases by using technology, though the fight isn’t easy.

Within the last decade Utah’s population has increased by 20 percent and litigation in Utah has decreased. Still, there is a large number of court cases each year, making it harder for the courts to keep up.

The Utah Legislature has given $600,000 to the courts within the last few years, for implementation of online court assistance and court outreach programs that aim to streamline the court process. “We are embarked on something that no other state has done. There have been wrinkles, but it has gone remarkably smooth considering the scope,” said Daniel Becker, the Utah state court administrator.

Courts are aimed at becoming increasingly high-tech and efficient. Utah is one of the first states to be looking into the use of Internet video conferencing to streamline the court system. If it is implemented in the future, judges could video conference into smaller rural communities when needed, instead of making an entire trip. It is hoped this would make the court system Utah more efficient and cheap.

At the hearing, lawmakers said Utah courts are held in high esteem throughout the U.S., and Utah is the state with the most reforms and new projects for its court system. Some of these reforms include video conferencing for judges and the digitizing of court documents, which has eased the burden of filing paperwork on both the courts and the public. An E-warrants system allows law enforcement to ask for a warrant online and have the judge’s approval within minutes instead of having to physically find a judge at the courthouse.

The state has also established mental health and drug courts to address issues that wouldn’t be solved within the regular court system and allow for treatment. The Online Court Assistance Program helps people prepare court documents without an attorney and at minimal cost.

The courts have also adopted a time standard to be sure that court cases are being processed in the most efficient way possible. The goal is to be sure that 95 percent of cases are being processed within an acceptable amount of time, and as of March 31, 2014, 91 percent of cases were meeting that standard.

Luckily, Utah is seeing a decrease in court cases, which spiked during the recession and have fallen each year. Still the decreases haven’t eased the courts’ load. Simple things that aren’t shown on TV shows like “Law and Order” often make up a large part of the cost and time it takes to hear a case.

In 2013, 16,000 hours of translation were needed in the juvenile court system, and Utah still lacks enough treatment options for drug and mental health cases, which are often backlogged. These problems plague not only Utah but most courts throughout the country.

Interestingly, only 2 percent of cases that are filed ever make it before a jury. Almost 98 percent of legal proceedings are now solved outside of court or are settled before a full trial. This is a trend throughout the nation, and yet the courts are still filled, Becker said.


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