Behind the Bench

Georgia judges now rely on a clear picture when considering cases.

by / December 26, 2006

Offenders on trial in Georgia might soon be surprised to see their judge typing on a laptop and reviewing their criminal history in real time.

This is just one feature of the new business intelligence platform implemented by Georgia's Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). With the new platform, judges will know as much -- if not more -- about a defendant than police officers, parole officers and social workers.

The AOC supports Georgia's 1,100 courts, including the supreme, superior, state and juvenile courts, as well as the court of appeals. When Jorge Basto stepped in as the AOC's CIO in January 2005, he realized it was time to reconcile how the state's 1,592 judges interacted with more than 50 judicial case management systems.

Fast Forward
Basto said he wanted the AOC to become as efficient as the private sector, and consolidate the data from the fractured case management systems by creating a unified, automated and centralized system.

He turned to Business Objects for platform support and to create a Web-based application that lets the AOC incorporate and centralize data from disparate platforms and back-end systems.

"What we're trying to roll out for this year is a business intelligence environment to enable judges to access data more freely," Basto said. "Right now the case management systems are not being used to their full capabilities -- without the analysis these case management systems allow for."

Basto compares the old AOC system to a feudal system with numerous data fiefdoms, each with its own operating system. Under the new centralized business intelligence platform, judiciary courthouses will not only maintain their own individual operating platforms, but they will also be able to access information from a central portal via the AOC network.

"Our agency in no way wants to force changes in the courts' processes and their specific applications," Basto said. "The workflow and day-to-day operations would continue as they need, but a separate environment, which would be hosted and maintained at the AOC, would allow a portal view of judicial data -- such as directory information, and eventually case specific data as allowable."

The new portal will improve collaboration among judges, and in the future, allow expedited information exchange between Georgia's judiciary, legislative and law enforcement organizations. The new system will let federal and local law enforcement access the portal and use the data to support the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) initiatives and inquiries. The implementation, Basto said, has already enabled the AOC to increase efficiency and reduce costs in many areas.

One of the new portal's cost-saving mechanisms is built in Business Objects' Crystal Reports software, which generates reports from a wide range of data sources. With this software, the AOC can consolidate and report on case elements, such as the name, address, search and fugitive warrants, judge and lawyers involved, probation, fines and disposition. Once disposed, Crystal Reports adds the case to a historical database that can be shared with local, state or national organizations.

For example, traffic citations that fall under particular guidelines are transmitted to the Department of Driver Services, and specific criminal and civil data must be transmitted to the court clerks and federal entities.

Basto envisions that AOC judges will eventually use laptops on the bench to access real-time historical information from a databank relevant to each case. He anticipates the new platform will also connect with judiciary systems outside Georgia, giving judges access to previous citations and offenses in other states.

Although no preliminary work has been done with other states to move toward this goal, Basto said the collection of data and reporting would lend itself to "data marts" where relevant and consistent data could be mapped. "Before, there was a lot of paper and pencil," Basto said. "Now when superior court judges hear a case, they will have access to data immediately; before they didn't have access to information without going through the Georgia court data center, where they may have had to go through two or three different courts."

From the Ground Up
Crystal Reports also runs reports from SUSTAIN, the AOC's case management system used by more than 50 Georgia courthouses.

Basto and his IT staff are currently preparing to install SUSTAIN in the Georgia Supreme Court to help the judicial institution transition to an electronic document environment and start filing appellate cases electronically. Crystal Reports will also be used with SUSTAIN to provide critical data to the Supreme Court.

The data tracked by Crystal Reports has been used to identify trends and patterns in criminal activities that were not as clear prior to the tool's implementation.

The more than 600 reports and myriad information gathered by AOC employees -- judges, clerks and other judiciary members -- prompted several important decisions in 2005, including the formation of special commissions and committees.

One such example is the Georgia Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (GADEC), which was formed in 2005 after reports on juvenile crime and drug treatment programs indicated a dangerous trend among Georgia's youth.

The reports found that juveniles living next to Georgia highways were using drugs more frequently than their peers.

"The new AOC platform gives us a way to get necessary data to see where we need to focus our attention and where our problems are," said Peggy Walker, judge at Douglas County Juvenile Court and founder of the GADEC. "We looked at drug use and saw methamphetamines were a big problem and saw patterns of use across northern Georgia, along the corridors of the expressway. It gave us a clearer picture we would not have had otherwise."

The AOC business intelligence platform and Crystal Reports are extremely useful tools in understanding what is happening in the state, Walker said, especially since the courts don't have the means to fund studies and gather the necessary information to subsidize commissions.

"We don't have [the] ability to fund that type of research and to have that type of information," Walker said. "If the AOC can have that information, we can use that to form our budgets, and then when we can look for resources. So it's a vital part of helping us to do our jobs well."

Crystal Reports also generates intelligence that determines judicial appointments based on statewide case count statistics and whether additional judges are needed to address an increase in caseload.

"Through the use of this reporting software, we saw that we had big deficiencies in data, and what we were missing," Basto said. "Now we're incorporating in our applications around 600 reports, from end-of-month reports to receipts."

Next Platform
Basto is working to make the AOC platform the premier source of judicial data in the state. It is a huge undertaking he admits, but he is already anticipating the possibilities of the new technology. Once the system is fully deployed, Basto said he foresees a comprehensive, unified network throughout Georgia, where state, county and city agencies can consolidate and share their data across multiple networks, applications and information sources.

Basto said the new system will consist of a standardized platform that not only supports the AOC, but also the Department of Motor Vehicles, police and sheriff departments, the Department of Corrections, and any other state or city municipality conducting an investigation and needing to access information from disparate databases, including the DHS.

"There is not an agency I know of in Georgia that does not allow complete state-side information to be shared," Basto said. "I don't see why we cannot go toward that goal. Our system is only as good as the information it provides."
Chandler Harris Contributing Writer