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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Online dispute resolution offers traffic courts COVID-safe justice

Even though the COVID-19 vaccine has been rolling out across the country, and the administration’s goal of 200 million vaccines by the end of April is on track, cases are still trending upward. A minimum of 70-85% of the population needs to be immunized to stave off the virus, and projections show that should happen around the fall of 2021. Plus, a vaccine may only last a few months before it no longer offers maximum protection. That means it will still be a while before things return to a pre-COVID “normal,” if they ever do.

For traffic courts, that means new decisions must be made about how to proceed for the long term.

Many of the country’s traffic courts closed for in-person proceedings due to the pandemic. That both delayed justice and deferred local government revenue that usually comes from the payment of fines. In fact, a 2020 OpenGov study found that 82% of local governments have lost revenue from fees and fines. Plus, some of the courts that have remained open for in-person hearings are facing a backlash. For example, legal services groups are currently suing a judge in Los Angeles for unnecessarily risking defendants’ health with in-person, “super-spreader” hearings.

Online dispute resolution

Online dispute resolution (ODR) offers traffic courts a way to ensure COVID safety without compromising justice, customer service or a local government’s bottom line. It allows judges, magistrates, attorneys, court clerks, law enforcement officers, defendants and related parties to participate in and resolve a case online. The technology was originally developed for e-commerce websites like eBay so that buyers and sellers could resolve their disagreements, and it ended up being successfully used in more than 60 million disputes annually, which is more than the entire U.S. civil court system.

ODR works well in the legal field because it’s user-friendly -- not only for lawyers and judges, but also for the general public.

How it works

An online traffic resolution system allows people involved in traffic disputes to review their citation, submit new evidence and documentation, challenge claims and pay fines – from anywhere. Attorneys, officers and members of the court can review and discuss cases, approve or modify recommendations and disputes and easily do their part to bring cases to a swift conclusion.

Alerts are automatically sent out when there is a change in the case’s status or when someone adds new information, ensuring everyone stays informed and can complete the next steps. Because it’s online, the platform can be accessed from a computer or smartphone any time of the day or night. Non-video ODR solutions allow for ongoing communication without worrying about scheduling docket times or if a traffic court trial will interrupt a surgery.

Most ODR platforms use access rights, data protection measures and other security methods to keep data safe. Dashboards and reporting features provide both high-level and in-depth information to prosecutors and the courts.

What to look for

There are a variety of online dispute resolution applications available, so it’s important to find the one that will work best. Here are some things to consider:

  • Set up – Some platforms must be integrated with existing systems; others are free-standing and can be “skinned” to match an existing site. The way the system works affects the time and costs for implementation.
  • Security – ODRs can have different security infrastructures and certifications, so the system should be checked against the court’s requirements. Security measures also should address access control, data backup, data deletion protocols and downtime. Additionally, it’s important to know what data is being pulled from and pushed to other systems.
  • Scalability – Just because an ODR is purchased for traffic court doesn’t mean it has to stay there. Platform can be scaled to accommodate other needs or used in another area, such as small claims court, if successful.
  • Overall experience – It’s critical that the app is easy for users to navigate. It should accommodate payment rather than shuffling people to another platform. A robust platform should provide the analytics and insights to help the court to enhance its processes and include tech support and customer service.

ROI of ODR

An ODR system provides a return on investment in multiple ways. It ensures public safety, which is still a paramount concern during these COVID times. Courts can hear a larger number of cases per day than current social distancing requirements will allow. Everyone involved spends less time than they would in an in-person hearing. Law enforcement officers have more time on the street. Cases are resolved more efficiently, increasing productivity. Workflows are streamlined, and risks are minimized. ODR helps governments generate revenue, and it decreases overhead costs going to electricity or bathroom supplies.

All that said, the biggest ROI is improved access to justice. ODR is convenient and works with absolutely everyone’s schedule. There is no need for someone to worry about taking time off work, trying to get to the courthouse, finding parking or hiring a babysitter — people can use the system whenever it works best for them. That also means hourly workers don’t have to lose any wages to go to traffic court. Additionally, non-video ODR mitigates the possibility of discrimination because of a person’s color, race, appearance or other factors.

Everyone hopes to soon put COVID in the rear-view mirror. Yet, even as people get more confident to venture out and be social again, they will still appreciate the convenience of online dispute resolution platforms. Traffic tickets can be handled as easily as checking email, and everyone will benefit from equal treatment and equal access to justice.  

About the Author

Jarrett Gorlin is founder and CEO of Judicial Innovations.

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