Ohio court eliminates discovery delays and sees more defendants appearing for hearings
The Garfield Heights Municipal Court District sits at the intersection of all the major freeways in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. “We have a lot of traffic cases, and we’re moving fast,” says Judge Deborah Nicastro. Using Thomson Reuters Case Center, Nicastro and her colleagues reduced discovery time in traffic court cases to 48 hours, a process that typically could take up to 90 days. They were also able to improve the rate of people appearing for their hearings.
Challenge: Improving collection and sharing of evidence in discovery
Ohio requires criminal and traffic misdemeanors to be completed in six months. Judge Nicastro tries to keep that timeframe to 90 days. She’s been focused on delivering swift resolution since before the pandemic and noted that most of the court’s operations were digital when the shutdown orders came. The court implemented Zoom for hearings, leaving only discovery to contend with.
“Before the pandemic, people would come to court, and the attorneys would hand the bailiff a DVD of evidence to be admitted,” Nicastro says. Sometimes that DVD wasn’t a complete record, leading to delays as evidence was shared between the police, highway patrol and defense. “These are cases where at the time of arrest, most investigation is already done,” Nicastro says. “By the time the case is filed with us, the police have all the evidence they're going to have. We just needed to collect it and make it available more efficiently.”
Approach: Use Case Center to streamline evidence handling and reduce delays
The court implemented Case Center after some research into evidence management. The new process involves these steps:
- Defense files a discovery request with the clerk
- Clerk opens a case in Case Center
- Case Center emails the people in the case: prosecutor, police department, defense attorney, and the defendant and victim if appropriate
- Attorneys and police upload their evidence, usually within 48 hours
The evidence is available to the parties, though the judge typically doesn’t look at it until the parties call upon them to do so in a hearing. In an online hearing, parties view evidence on their own. Those in the courtroom see it on a courtroom monitor.
Nicastro appreciates that people can train on Case Center themselves and get help from Thomson Reuters Technical Support if needed. Parties don’t need to bring tech support to court with them or wait for the courthouse technical support person to be available.
Case Center is also helpful in no-cash-bail cases. Those litigants often weren’t coming back for their court dates. Now, police supervisors now immediately upload charging documents to Case Center, which notifies Nicastro of a new case. She holds the arraignment and sets bail within six hours.
Impact: Reduced delays in discovery and fewer hearing no-shows
The efficiency and speed to hearings have had a great impact for the Garfield Heights Municipal Courts District. Nicastro says that they have meaningfully reduced the delays inherent in the discovery process, going from a high of 90 days to having everything available within 48 hours.
As for those no-cash-bail hearings, Nicastro says that everyone she sees that way comes back to court. They see that justice is swift and they have some confidence. They appreciate the resolution and that they have enough time with the evidence to properly prepare their defense.”