Trial Court Coordination Councils
Seattle Municipal Court Sponsors ICM Practical Reengineering in the Courts
By Julia Appel
On May 1st, participants in the Institute for Court Management's "Practical Re-engineering in the Courts" session went back to their respective courts not only with some practical tools, but with considerable food for thought.
Thanks to the hospitality of Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) staff, who played host to administrators, managers, staff, and judges from as far away as Delaware to Trinidad and Tobago, participants had a chance to put the new methodology learned into practice.
The session was facilitated by Daniel H. Straub, Ph.D., faculty member at the Institute for Court Management, the National Judicial College, and University of Southern California's School of Public Administration. Dr. Straub is also president of Straub & Associates, a national court management consulting firm.
Dr. Straub took reengineering out of the realm of management fads and confusing professional jargon, and placed it in the hands of those who would ultimately make and live with these changes.
Providing a practical method for evaluating current court processes based on process mapping and cycle-time management, the techniques proved both easy to understand and apply.
Participants formed groups based on a list of processes identified by SMC as being candidates for improvement: Restitution; Bail Trust Processing; Human Resources Recruiting; Interpreter Coordination; Courtroom Proceedings; Jail Release; Re-Licensing; and Probation.
The more than 60 "reengineering experts" then descended on SMC, welcomed by the managers of the areas under review. What quickly became apparent was that successful reengineering depends on coordination and cooperation not only between departments within the court, but also with many outside agencies.
The restitution process requires complex coordination between the city attorney's office and the court. Bail trust processing requires coordination between the city finance department and the court. The re-licensing program involves coordination between the city attorney's office, the public defender's office, community based agencies (focused on social services, job training, career counseling, and debt reduction), the jails, other court jurisdictions, and SMC.
Reengineering for the future
Opportunities for both improvement and cost savings become apparent as members of the local courts started discussing how processes were handled in their own courts. The majority of the participants were from SMC, King County Superior Court, and King County District Courts. Striking examples of potential benefits to the public and to the courts became apparent when cross-court/multi agency processes such as the re-licensing program were discussed.
There was also realization that there are local "expert consultants" in the various court levels ready and willing to share their experience. Most court processes are duplicated at each court level, yet traditionally, each court develops their own unique methods.
Interpreter coordination is a good example. SMC members were excited to find that an excellent web application for interpreter management has already been developed by the district court. SMC and district court members are hoping in the future to try some of the interpreter outreach activities already being successfully undertaken by the superior court. Coordination of these interpreter activities across all court levels in a county could result in significant innovation.
Enormous thanks goes to SMC staff and management for their willingness to be both hosts and guinea pigs, and most particularly to Court Administrator Yolande Williams and Finance Director Gayle Tajima for bringing the course to Seattle.
Julia Appel is a court program analyst with the Judicial Services Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
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