Photo: YouTube/California Courts

Seven counties are partnering with the Judicial Council of California, the policymaker for the state’s court system, in piloting a new system aimed at reducing the burden of traffic infraction fines.

Buoyed by federal and state funding that originated in 2016, the Judicial Council (JCC) contracted with Global Justice Solutions in a three-year pact that ends this spring, to create an online tool enabling residents to seek the reduction of minor traffic fines that don’t require a court appearance. The JCC partnered with superior court systems in Shasta, Tulare, Ventura, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, later adding Monterey and Fresno counties. All seven courts remain technically in pilot, but all except Monterey are now live with the tool, MyCitations. San Francisco announced its go-live in December. Among the takeaways:

  • The JCC “supports a variety of … superior court level projects statewide,” Martha Wright, its manager, Criminal Justice Services told Techwire. It received $488,000 seed money in 2016 as a U.S. Department of Justice Pride of Justice grantee to “study and identify issues related to defendants’ inability to pay fines and fees,” followed by $3.4 million in the Fiscal Year 2018-2019 state budget and an ongoing $1.3 million annually to “design, deploy and maintain the software in designated pilot courts.” A legislative update to state vehicle code authorized the pilot.
  • Global Justice Solutions was contracted “in the beginning grant stages and worked with the court on concept and design and initial requirements,” Suzanne Schleder, the JCC’s information systems supervisor II, information technology, new programs, told Techwire. “Our in-house developers have learned the code and are ready to take over and our in-house folks have developed the next module that we’re moving to as well,” she said. Schleder described the system as “a statewide application made with a consortium of courts — the pilot courts together — to address the issue with statewide business process in mind … .” It enables residents to look up citations online, answer a series of questions and seek a reduction in what they owe based on their financial need, or a payment plan, more time to pay or community service.
  • The JCC is “working on another option for people to be able to request a trial by declaration and to be able to do that from MyCitations,” Wright said. This would move off paper a process that now has to happen by written declaration and “snail mail.” The plan, Schleder said, is for a pilot implementation in the next six months. “We would like for MyCitations eventually down the line to be able to offer a variety of online options for people, so that folks can address matters in a way that work for them,” Wright said.
  • The JCC had never before worked to stand up a system that could connect so many court systems into a single public-facing front-end, Glen Souza, its IT enterprise architect, said. MyCitations was also, he said, one of its “first big projects” taken to the cloud and hosted entirely there — improving the system’s ability to handle increases in traffic. (Microsoft Azure is the cloud provider.) The system uses Azure Active Directory as one aspect of its security, along with an API on the backend that serves as a gateway to a particular court — ensuring members of the public aren’t directly connected to internal-facing systems. As of late December, officials had processed more than 12,000 requests to discount traffic fines from residents in the six pilot counties now live. (The pilot designation ends June 30.)
  • The consolidated city-county of San Francisco announced its go-live Dec. 10 after a soft launch that lasted several months, Anne Stuhldreher, its director of financial justice, said, adding that joining the pilot didn’t cost anything. Since the soft launch, San Francisco courts worked with the JCC to make needed system adjustments — including the ability for residents to seek discounts for citations that were not yet deemed late. Typically, JCC officials said, a county implementation can take about three months, beginning with a kickoff meeting between teams that could also include a county CIO and operations staff. At that meeting, JCC officials would likely lay out a project road map and provide API specifications and a webinar on using the system, as well as get information on the court’s case management system (CMS). That would be followed with weekly technical calls between technical teams.
  • Among the takeaways for IT vendors, Souza indicated your past work may be more valuable than you think. That past work, he said, could have implications or applications for government — and potentially streamline any future creation process of working with a state or local entity. In this instance, the third-party provider, Global Justice Solutions, had done “similar things in the past.”
    “They had some unique insight into how this could be done faster than us having to figure it out from scratch,” Souza said.