Webb County Court uses technology to go from worst to first
Webb County Court in Laredo, Texas, experienced a true transformation. In 2017, it was the worst audited court in Texas for guardianship compliance with a backlog of 6,000 cases. By 2019, though, it had been named a Judicial Center of Excellence by the Texas Judicial Council. In 2022, it was the first court in Texas to clear its pandemic backlog. The court staff now consults with other courts about how to modernize and digitize court proceedings to help deliver justice faster and with more level access for all court users. Court staff used a variety of technologies to transform the hearing process, including Case Center from Thomson Reuters.
Challenge: How to handle evidence in an online hearing
In March 2020 the staff, judges, and court users pivoted to online hearings. To organize and admit evidence, staff would receive files over email and create new folders and subfolders for each day’s docket. Court Administrator Cesia Y. Rodriguez said this process took her three to four hours per night as she prepared for the next full day of court hearings. “I would put my five-month-old to bed and start creating folders in Google Drive,” she said.
This inefficient approach slowed down access to justice for court users and was unsustainable for staff. The team quickly implemented Thomson Reuters Case Center to manage evidence digitally.
Approach: Use Case Center to support efficient handling of evidence in all court settings
Case Center remains an important tool now that the court is conducting live and hybrid hearings.
- Everyone has access to the same view of the evidence, whether they are participating live or online. Rodriquez keeps everything paperless. If attorneys bring paper evidence, she scans and uploads it.
- Case Center takes nearly all file types – audio, video, photographs, text, PDF – and is browser based, so parties can easily upload evidence in real time for the judge to admit.
- Judges and courts staff are notified when evidence is uploaded. This helps them predict if a hearing might go from a short, uncontested matter to an evidentiary hearing.
Impact on court users and staff
“We are no longer spending three to four hours a night creating and deleting folders for evidence, managing permissions, and notifying parties,” Rodriquez says. Case Center has saved her and her colleagues hundreds of hours per month. “We have completely eliminated our post-pandemic backlog – becoming the first County Court in Texas to do so.” It means a lot to her and her colleagues, and it means a lot to court users, too.
Delaying someone’s day in court has real financial and emotional cost. “When Judge Victor Villareal came to the bench, misdemeanor cases were taking up to five years to clear,” she says. “Now we’re clearing them in six months.” This has a real impact on the people who are waiting for justice, both accused and victim.” She also notes that for probate cases, delays in court proceedings mean a delay in accessing money that is rightfully theirs.
“I know how much it takes to get a case to court,” Rodriquez says. “People spend $2,500 to $5,000 just to hire a lawyer and may easily be at $10,000 before the first court hearing. I’ve seen people give up on their visitation rights or let go of money in probate because they couldn’t afford to continue. We want to take some of the time and cost out if we can. And want to avoid adding trauma and frustration to an already hard time in most people’s lives.”