With the Court Technology Conference in Minneapolis in full swing, Thomson Reuters gathered leaders from across the justice system for the panel, Technology to Connect the Justice Ecosystem.

Moderated by Brian Knudsen, vice president of the Government segment at Thomson Reuters, the discussion featured Judge Gary Lynch, Missouri Court of Appeals; J.D. Gingerich, Arkansas Director of Court Administration; Terry Gainer, former sergeant at arms of the U.S. Senate and former deputy director Illinois State Police; and Dwight Scroggins, prosecutor, Buchanan County, Missouri.

Knudsen opened the session with a review of the current justice landscape and the challenges inherent to the system, noting issues like mobile access, technology maturity, organizational challenges, security and, perhaps foremost, funding that courts must deal with everyday.

“If we can make government data flow… we can improve access to justice,” he added. In fact, a dynamic, connected legal ecosystem that links information, workflows and services in new ways is core to Thomson Reuters Legal’s vision. To the panelists, the problem was simple.

“We don’t have our own agencies in order,” said Gainer. “They don’t talk to each other.” He added that since entering law enforcement in 1968, the management of data – from law enforcement, to courts and beyond – has improved, but there are still silos between agencies and parties that are difficult to overcome despite improved technology.

“The things we need are the things [we would all] like to have,” Scroggins noted. He added that despite common barriers, including repetition of data entry and data management, he was hopeful that the system can keep up. “Our case loads have tripled, but we are improving every day.”

While Buchanan County, Missouri, is a rural jurisdiction, Scroggins noted that the county has been well-resourced to look at the data and enact efficiencies to manage about 4,000 cases a year and keep judges, law enforcement and other partners moving.

“It starts with small steps,” he said.

Gainer noted that “big data” is a term that law enforcement is becoming more familiar with. Citing how case numbers often have their own identifiers/codes between systems, he quipped that more officers are beginning to ask, “Why can’t [the information] start with one freaking number?”

Gingerich noted that while money and politics may be issues for most agencies, the disagreement of how to solve the problem can be more fundamental. Remarking that it’s a lot like the “pope vs. Gallileo” for some, the court isn’t the center of the “justice universe.”

“The thing is [to determine] what it is that the courts or law enforcement need. It’s easy to have those conversations from agency to agency,” he said.

“Part of the issue is outcome… what is the outcome we are trying to produce?” Gainer asked. He talked about how when he began his law enforcement career decades ago, the idea was to issue a certain number of traffic tickets. But when the focus shifted to the notion of preventing accidents, the goal became not to issue tickets, but rather discourage drivers from following too close, thereby encouraging a positive outcome.

But the flow of data isn’t a cure-all, the panelists added.

“We can’t focus on technology so much that we blur our roles,” said Judge Lynch. “The right information at the right place at the right time should be the focus… otherwise we waste resources.” He conceded that that outcome requires all players in the justice ecosystem to collaborate.

“The judge may not need the badge number of the officer in a case, but that could be valuable, so we should [share that information] and have access to that,” he added.

Lynch went a step further to offer a view that justice interaction with other technologies, including social media, could improve access to information and save time for courts and litigants alike. Knudsen noted that most consumers are familiar with checking on YouTube to fix appliances, that “perhaps the same tools could be used in the justice system.”

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