Courthouse Design: Insights

In 1994, Richard Zorza and Judge Robert Keating published a paper full of insights from their attempt to redesign the interfaces that judges & court officials used when prosecuting drug offenders, in Midtown Community Court.

This quick 4-pager paper The Ten Commandments of Electronic Courthouse Design, Planning, and Implementation: The Lessons of the Midtown Community Court nicely summarizes their findings into ‘Commandments’.

Open Law Lab - 10 Commandments A2j courthouse

On his Access to Justice blog, Zorza also has some new reflections, two decades out, on the redesigns he proposed for the court interface. That blog post also includes images of his proposed redesigns (not included here) of what the judge would see when making sentencing decisions, and also follow-through mechanisms to make sure the court was keeping track of the defendant’s path.

Zorza writes that the point of their design project was giving court officials more oversight & resources when making sentencing decisions in drug courts.

…the key to the concept was to combine immediacy of actual consequences with close judicial monitoring, and real community input into policy.   As we designed the technology, a major goal was to ensure that judges got broad information before they made a sentencing decision, and also afterwards, so they could monitor ongoing compliance.  Important to the model was having a broad range of intermediate sanctions available for the judge to choose.

The pair proposed a design that would give a variety of information about the defendant to the judge, as well as tools to track & monitor the progress after sentencing.

Some of the designs weren’t accepted, but some user research came out of the project, in the form of the commandments. The commandments are sometimes particular to the project Zorza & Keating were working on, and not generalizable to other legal design projects. Others (in bold) are more relevant widely.

One: Start with an Electronic Judicial Desktop
Two: Build a Web of Electronic Relationships Between Court and Other Justice Agencies
Three: Design the System to Collect and Display Information About the Progress of the Case Within the Courthouse, as Well as Information About the Case Itself
Four: Imaging Is not Enough. The Issue is Document Collection and Display
Five: Use Graphical Interface Design for Courts
Six: Use Color, Flashing, and Positioning to Enhance Information
Seven: Use Technology to Enhance Community Access
Eight: Build Tools that Put Users in Charge; Do Not Make them Feel Controlled
Nine: Use Automated E-Mail to Build Connections Between People and Data
Ten: Recognize that an Integrated Computer System Has the Capacity to Make Fundamental Changes in the Way a Courthouse Works

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