cut court costs and time - poses some problems. In an arraignment suspects are brought before a judge who requests a plea of guilty or not guilty. As Lederer pointed out, when video is used it remains unclear where the defendant's lawyer should be: at the remote location with his client, leaving the prosecutor alone with the judge, or with the judge and prosecutor, leaving the defendant alone?
COURT CASE CHALLENGE
In court administration, technology is being brought to bear on a number of issues. First and foremost is case management. In the 1970s, some of the larger courts installed tracking systems, which used hierarchical databases to manage court data. These systems were fine for handling what McMillan calls the one-to-many relationships of a criminal defendant to his case and other relevant records.
But those systems did not address the many-to-many relationships of information pertaining to persons, cases, time and financial matters that typically occur in court cases. Relational databases provide the flexibility to handle the complex case management, but application programmers must still define the multiplicity of relationships in order for the system to perform correctly.
To help, McMillan has developed a methodology for structuring a case management system in today's courts. "What we want case management systems to have," said McMillan, "is a single-pointer system that tracks a person to the case or cases in which he is a defendant, the scheduling of the cases to avoid any conflicts and, of increasing importance, the fines that have been levied and the accounts to which the money goes."
The Court Technology Laboratory is looking at how technology can help courts in a number of other areas. Electronic filing of court papers by lawyers is one. Another is document imaging, which includes workflow, document management and electronic access.
A third area is information focus. "For years, judges have been telling me that automation is great for helping court clerks with the toil of document processing," said McMillan, "but it's not pulling and focusing the information for their use." To solve the problem, the lab is looking at ways to "focus" information with technology.
Electronic filing of documents is one way to do that, because it eliminates paper and the need to manually pull specific information from documents. Another cornerstone to information focus is markup language technology, such as Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), which enables lawyers to "tag" information in their electronic documents. The judges then can easily search for these tags and use the pertinent information in their opinions.
"These focusing tools are going to become a key piece of court technology in the next 10 years because they will help judges do their job much better," explained McMillan. "Courts will no longer be just pushing paper and collecting fines, they will be making sound judicial decisions. Good information," he added, "makes for good justice."
Technical Assistance Available
Access to the Court Technology Laboratory (CTL) and Courtroom 21 is not limited to state courts. However, state courts are given preferential treatment in terms of scheduling and time if conflicts arise. If there are no conflicts the CTL works with state administrative, international, and federal courts, and private corporations as needed. At this time there are fees associated with international visits.
Onsite technical assistance is provided by NCSC's Court Services Division, located in Denver. They provide the kind of direct, specific assistance many courts need. Each year, NCSC sets aside funds for free technical assistance to the state courts. In 1993 alone, NCSC's Denver-based Court Services assisted over 50 courts in 26 states in a number of areas, including technology assessments and planning.
NCSC is not a membership organization. Each state is assessed a voluntary fee