Hackers Unite to Improve Utah State Court’s Technology

A “hackathon” held in March led to the creation of apps designed to improve the court system and residents’ interaction with it.

Jury duty can be a hassle for anyone who gets called for it, but what if technology could make the civic duty easier to navigate? That was one of the questions a group of coders, tackled last month in Utah in an effort to improve the technology behind the state’s court system.

Around 100 participants on 15 teams took part in a 22-hour hackathon on March 4 and 5 at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City, with many staying up all night to complete their coding projects.

The $5,500 grand prize award (including a trip to the e-Courts Conference in Las Vegas) went to a team dubbed Robot Lawyer, according to CourtHack’s website, for creating “a chat based application for filing court appeals and claims.”

Improving the Court Through Technology

The CourtHack hackathon was sponsored by the National Center for State Courts and HackerNest. The NCSC is a nonprofit aimed at improving U.S. state courts by providing them with research, education, consulting and information services. HackerNest is a Canadian nonprofit that builds local technology communities around the globe.

Among the judges of the hackathon were Justice Constandinos Himonas of the Utah Supreme Court; Tom Clarke, the NCSC’s vice president for research and technology; Robin Sweet, the state court administrator for the Supreme Court of Nevada; and Matt Burns, a senior editor at TechCrunch.

CourtHack suggests several challenges that coders can tackle, including analyzing data to identify algorithms to predict potential abuse of residents’ estates, creating mobile apps to let residents engage in transactions with the court, and designing apps that incorporate videoconferencing to speed up the processing and approval of protective orders.

One clear option hackathon participants thought of was making it easier for residents to receive jury duty notifications. “I had to call in every single day, the night before,” T.J. Ferrell, a participant who reportedly had difficulties with jury duty in California, told KSL.com. “You get this phone system, there's like 12 different options before you can finally get to the option to know whether or not you actually need to come in the next day.”

Winning Apps Run the Gamut

According to CourtHack, the winning entries in the hackathon spanned a wide range of technologies, some of which intersect with local law enforcement and public safety. For example, one of the winners of a $2,500 prize, the Secure City team, conceived of a service that uses “geo-positioning technology to alert police officers of court orders to be served in their vicinity, updated in real time.”

Another $2,500 prize was given out to the Maelstrom of Bits team, which created “a platform that analyzes existing data and allows guardians to upload their transactions in order to detect financial abuse.”

Others sought to coordinate different state and local agencies. Homeless Hackers nabbed $2,500 prize for designing an “agency portal to alert homeless services and mental health care managers to jail releases and court dates for their clients.”

Some of the apps that the hackathon generated could wind up in other state court systems, according to KSL.com. “Some of these apps will go on to be developed, others will go in the great idea bucket, and probably become nothing,” Summer Bammes, a legal assistant in the health section of the Utah attorney general’s office, told the website.

Joe Ravi/Wikimedia Commons
Apr 06 2016