KCK was able to transform and digitize a process that took weeks to about 3-4 hours.
OpenForms helps local courts reimagine access to justice in times of crisis
As more cities begin shifting government services from in-person to online, some service areas seem more opportune for transformation than others. On the surface, courts seem too dependent upon live interactions to make a good case for digital services. But the Municipal Court of Kansas City, Kan. (KCK) knew better when they selected OpenForms to help modernize communications and transactions with the public.
What they didn’t know was that a global pandemic would soon test their ability to reassess policies and respond with speed and effectiveness. When city-wide COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, the Court had to close its doors to in-person service. This meant closing off hundreds of daily visitors.
“We had never closed before, except for a half-day training. Our office sees a constant flow of traffic,” said Crystal Sprague, Court Administrator for KCK Municipal Court. “When the restrictions took effect, we realized we'd have to stop court hearings. Everything looked different. We needed to make a strategic change but do it quickly.”
Prepared to respond with OpenForms
Having OpenForms at hand, Crystal knew she could move swiftly to work with judges to implement policy changes and inform the public. Without a way to quickly adapt justice processes to an online channel, hundreds of people would be left without a way to resolve their court-related business.
“As a department head, I now could work with our judges to implement policy changes in minutes, not days or even months. I could build a form in OpenForms and make it go live on our website tomorrow,” said Crystal.
During the initial days of the COVID-19 emergency response, the City initiated two new municipal court services, powered by OpenForms:
Online Traffic Diversion Form
Ordinarily, most defendants could appear in the court, plead guilty to a lesser charge (i.e. no use of turn signal) and pay double the fine to have their case dismissed—in order to avoid any impact on their driving record. This process required a court appearance.
By using OpenForms, a citizen applies online using the appropriate form and pleads to certain terms. With OpenForms Workflow, the prosecutor can approve the plea or decline it, before the form moves to the court clerk to enter the recommendation. If approved, the defendant is informed of a 60-day payment window. This policy change makes fine payments easier to manage for citizens and staff, and eliminates the need to schedule multiple court dates. A process that once took days and weeks now takes about 3-4 hours.
We saw 48 forms submitted in one month—two physical court hearings saved, which is a huge cost saving”
Submit Information to the Courts
Many defendants often have to appear in court simply to provide proof of documentation—be it a driver’s license, an insurance card or another item they didn't have at the time they were ticketed. As a result, they not only have to appear in court, but until the documentation is provided, the defendant can't interact online with the Court because of the appearance requirement.
Defendants can use the document upload function on the Court website, enabled by OpenForms, to submit a copy of their driver’s license or proof of insurance. Prosecutors can then move the decision on the case forward, faster.
Though the Court could not have predicted how the pandemic crisis would impact their operations, it ultimately allowed court staff to think strategically about how to provide better access to justice.
“It forced us to collaborate more closely with the prosecutor’s office, judges and other departments to initiate new policies that needed to happen. We will be able to provide better service to residents, but also save the Court time in the long run. ”