Signs of The Times

By Donna Rogers, Editor

We all hate the extra few minutes getting lost adds to our schedule, know the turmoil it can bring to events of our day and dread arriving tardy to an important engagement such as a court appointment. That was occurring all too often to visitors to the Cobb County Magistrate Court, says Chief Magistrate Judge Joyette Holmes.

In fact, court participants were frequently waiting in the wrong courtroom only to have a judge issue a warrant for their arrest because they didn’t appear. It was actually happening “on a daily basis,” says Judge Holmes.

Cobb County Magistrate Court has a demanding caseload. Situated in Marietta, Ga., it serves a population of nearly 700,000, and handles 67,000 matters per year, Holmes and Deena C. Fincher, court administrator describe to this writer.

“We call Magistrate Court ‘the people’s court or the ER of courthouse,’” continues Holmes. Magistrate Court handles a plethora of cases, of course. “People are coming here to solve low dollar amount cases—such as landlord-tenant matters under fifteen thousand dollars, garnishment cases, etc.,” the judge explains and, “they are doing this on their own, without attorneys.”
Further, on the criminal side, probably the most known aspect of Magistrate Court is that “they write all arrest warrants, 24/7/365 days a year—at 5 in evening or 2 in morning.” As a result, the Cobb County Magistrate Court is a beehive of litigants and other participants crisscrossing the lobby en route to two connecting buildings and five floors.  

Divide and Conquer
Years prior, two separate government buildings—Superior Court South (the original State Court Building) and a second facility with various offices had been connected by the shared lobby. Confusing navigation, the four Magistrate courtrooms and supporting areas were scattered throughout both structures and on various floors, alongside other public safety and government agencies, such as Probate, Juvenile and some Superior Courts, as well as the Sheriff’s Office. “[Court participants] would come into the front lobby and ask for Magistrate Court,” points out Holmes, “and they could have been guided in any of three directions.”

There were no directional signs to offer assistance to visitors, Fincher explains. Meanwhile, Magistrate Court was planning an imminent new space where all its courts could be housed under one roof; the remodel was set to begin in March 2017 and be ready for a target date of January 1, 2018. The Court, therefore, did not wish to waste taxpayer money for signage that would only be used for the interim—a period of less than two years.

We needed not only directional signage, notes Holmes, but we needed signs for specific courts. “Infax had done it for the state, and it was a natural progression to speak to them.”

In late 2016 along with hardboard directional signage supplied separately, Infax provided two 55-inch LG flat panel DocketCall monitors in the shared lobby; on the third floor of one building outside the elevators installed two 49-inch monitors; and one 49-inch monitor each on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floor of the second building. On the boards, every daily docket is posted (with directional mapping to be added later). The system is loaded with Engage software that allows the user to create directional signage, personalized messages, digital directories and advertisements.

‘Customer’ Service
Now the Court officials report direction-giving has decreased substantially at the lobby front window near the elevators. And those cutting it close because parking is such a challenge are redirected less from the wrong courtrooms, reducing their frustration, says Fincher.

And very important to them, even though they had been contemplating a move one-and-a-half years out, explains Holmes, the digital signage is mobile and reprogrammable so it will be moving to the new space with them when the remodel is complete.
In the end, the catalyst was customer service, Holmes underscores. “Because [Magistrate Court] is the ‘people’s court,’ my motivation is that anyone coming in should be thought of almost as a customer. Whether they are an instigating or a responding litigator I want it to be an okay experience.”

To be lacking location direction guidance even for a transitory period of time posed difficulty, in Holmes’ mind. “It was more efficient and more effective to do it,” the judge furthers. “The digital information and docketing provides that extra service to the people using the services of the Court. It didn’t make sense not to do it.”

Ohio Court Turns to Digital Solution

In the not too distant past, visitors to the Lake County Courthouse and Courthouse Annex in Painesville, Ohio, regularly found themselves lost, explains Jim Walsh, IT director for the court. The main courthouse built in 1909, was designed in a Beaux-Arts style, and has been expanded to include the Courthouse Annex (originally a post office building), and the two are connected by a tunnel. A grand front staircase causes the front and rear entrances to be on different floors, sending citizens even more off course.

The court serves the 11th most populous county in Ohio with 225,000 residents, and handles approximately 3,000 new cases per year in the general division including 1,000 civil, 900 foreclosure, and 750 criminal.  In addition, Domestic Relations manages some 1,900 new cases annually and Probate about 1,600. On the bench are four common pleas judges, one domestic relations judge, one probate judge, all located in this complex plus one juvenile judge, and three municipal court judges located in other buildings.
With limited signage, parties arriving at the courthouse, if they had not brought their case paperwork, would typically rely on deputies at the security desk for direction to find the location of a particular hearing. “It is the nature of the courthouse that people often find themselves here for the first and only time,” notes Walsh, prompting the court to seek technology that could make it smoother for them.

When the Court decided to implement digital signage they had specific criteria that had to be met. They hired AdGators, a full-service digital signage company, which provided all the hardware and software, and worked together with the County’s case management vendor to secure scheduling extracts.  

They personalized the displays based on drawings by floor and by building, working with each entity for their specific needs as well as working with the court to add video content in certain areas, says Walsh. The AdGators team also built in flexibility to accommodate varying technical levels of their users—“some are quite savvy, logging into the AdGators Docket Vision dashboard to engage and manage content directly while others rely on Court IT to be the programming interface with Docket Vision,” Walsh furthers.
The Court also imposed a tight deadline on the supplier in order to prepare the courthouse for a public open house—and they stepped up and made sure the Court had their display up and running on the appointed day, he says.

System Set-up
Lake County’s use of the system has evolved and bisected into multiple display areas. At present the Court has 10 displays in the courthouse and annex plus one in Juvenile court and one in its Clerk of Courts Title Office, about six miles west of the courthouse. Many present both the docket and wayfinding information on a single screen designed in ‘landscape’ mode, Walsh details.  The displays are 48-inch Samsung 450NIT commercial displays powered by AdGators’ custom-built ScreenSeed NUC media players, mounted via Peerless flat wall mounts.  

Walsh has only positive regard for the implementation by AdGators. Since deploying the digital displays in the Lake County Courthouse and Annex, “our citizens find that they can navigate the courthouse in a much improved manner.” Visitors find the wayfinding and schedules “help immensely,” and the interactive weather maps help pass the time when waiting for hearings to begin or witnesses to be called, he adds.

“With the incorporation of wayfinding into our docket displays, we quickly realized the importance of updating to digital signage,” he believes.  “It also is an immediate indicator to the first-time visitor of the practical technology implemented in the courtrooms and throughout the courthouse, which will help further the efficient administration of justice.” CT


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