Ohio uncoordinated clerk of courts systems of injustice

In preparation of watching oral arguments this morning at the 2nd District Court of Appeals I visited 5 different websites to try to prepare myself for the cases to be heard. That should be your first clue that something smells in Denmark.

The docket notices are filed as PDF’s (Portable Document Format) as are many court documents. In the day of mobile devices, this is so 1993 that alone should be cause for embarrassment, however there is a federal law on the books that should be forcing these courts to start adopting purely digital workflows- it’s called the Americans With Disabilities Act- known as ADA and it has been the law of the land since 1990. What’s even more embarrassing is the EEOC.gov site that talks about the ADA looks like it was built in 1990.

Most of you probably haven’t watched a blind person use the internet, yet, the tools that make the internet most accessible to the blind are also the building blocks of the results rendered by the dominant search engine, Google. If your site is built to be secure and mobile friendly, those are two of the most important indicators used for ranking- and these usually predicate that the site is also ADA compliant.

This means that the content is separate from the presentation, and properly formatted so it can resize to any size screen- and can be read in “reader view” easily for the visually impaired. PDF documents- are representations of printed documents, and while they may be able to be read by a screen reader, they typically are incapable of being resized on the fly for the blind.

Which brings us to the problem of almost all clerk of courts workflows which seem to have been developed sometime in the early days of desktop publishing when the PDF was heralded as the “replacement for the printed page.” The problem is, the printed page is passe. For many reasons, including both the ADA and the small screen of the internet enabled phone which first debuted in 2007 when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. Having a representation of a piece of paper wasn’t near as useful as text that could be resized to fit a phone screen.

In my attempts to research the four cases in advance I was able to find the appellate brief on the Montgomery County Pro site and download and read the document on my laptop. However, when I tried to do the same in the other 3 counties including Greene, Clark and Miami Counties all that I could access was a list of fees paid for a case, not the actual docket documents. Their sites were all built by the company “Equivant” who have offices in: Canton, Ohio, Helena, Montana, Traverse City, Michigan, Wheat Ridge, CO and Maitland, FL as well as Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

The Montgomery County “Pro” site (PRO stands for Public Records Online) is home built and allows access to all the actual case filings, even though they are in PDF format. It has many of it’s own issues, but compared to the “Equivant” systems it’s clearly superior.

In the year of our lord, 2019, this is blasphemy. It’s an affront to the good people of Ohio who have been fleeced by elected officials who have not done their duty to craft a single, unified, transparent, responsive and cost-effective system for the management of courts and online case filing in this state that is fully ADA compliant.

It’s also cost the taxpayers at least 88x (we have 88 counties) more than a single unified system would- and caused costs to rise, confusion to be the norm and to provide cover and excuses for the rich and powerful to prey upon the good hard-working citizens of the State.

As an example today, a court had issued summary judgement to a questionably credible collections firm on a student loan debt. There had never been a hearing of the evidence, nor was the collections firm made to prove that they actually had rights to the debt which had somehow inflated from $25K to $76K without any proof.

Their argument was that although the defendant had responded to their filings, the defendant didn’t have proof of service to the debt collector. There was also a question as to if a notary public had signed off in Jan or Jun, because the courts were still dependent on the ridiculous concept of an “Official witness and seal” somehow creates a document of some legal value. Hot wax and embossed seals might have been OK for the French Revolution, but the information age has much more effective tools like blockchain and HTTPS protocols.

In a modern, online clerk of courts system, the whole process of filing briefs, and responses would be in a digital format, a text file, with markup, that would include date and time stamps as well as live links to verified case summaries/support materials. All court filings would not only be online, but be transparently available and reviewable by all- including those who are vision impaired. By filing, parties would automatically be notified via secure email, RSS, and or, text alerts. There is no reason for “Certified mail” or “return reciepts” in a digital world. There also will never be any confusion between Jan and Jun.

Furthermore, if taxpayers are indeed tasked with voting for and choosing judges for the bench as they are in Ohio, it should be easy to find and review judges dockets, review decisions and even watch court proceedings on YouTube. This is how it’s done when the courts are brought into the 21st century. An advantage of properly filming all court cases, is that instead of having to rely on court transcription services, video can provide transcripts that are almost as accurate as transcription services- and at a much more affordable cost to those representing themselves (pro se). If you read this NY Times article on the dangers of speaking “ghetto” in court transcripts “Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences” you would see how this system can be disastrous for some segments of our society.

Currently, the only appeals court putting video of their oral arguments online in Ohio is the 9th district court, however, they need a lesson in video production technology, as you can’t hear the judges questions or discern which judge is asking what question.

Ideally, each case would have links to the complete docket, complete with outcomes along with the video, all in a searchable format.

That’s the beginning of a modern, transparent and effective legal resource for the citizens of Ohio.

 

 

 

 

 

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