Harvey Ruvin - Clerk of the Courts - Miami-Dade County, Florida

SPIRIT (Simultaneous Paperless Image Retrieval Information Technology)

System Overview
SPIRIT (Simultaneous Paperless Image Retrieval Information Technology) is a series of technology-based information systems developed for the Traffic Division of Miami-Dade County.  The projects were initiated to provide improved service to the various agencies that process traffic cases, attorneys and the public; and to respond to increased pressure from the public to be able to do more with less.  SPIRIT was developed and implemented for the Traffic Division, which took the Traffic courts and operations from a paper intensive environment to streamlined paperless processes.

SPIRIT consists of the following major components and processes:

Calendaring Workbench.  The Calendaring Workbench is a rule-based client / server application built with artificial intelligence techniques and software that schedules all traffic cases for the 14 traffic divisions, 24 traffic courtrooms and in 6 locations within Miami-Dade County.  A setting administrator in the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) develops "templates" that establish available sessions, judge's schedules and preferences, and session caps by type of session.  Cases that need to be set for court, the judge's schedules, officer schedules, the template data and a number of setting rules (e.g. all DUI cases only heard in certain divisions, cases for third shift officers only set for early morning sessions, cases running on speedy set first, infraction cases can be heard by a hearing officer instead of a judge, etc.) are then analyzed by the rules-based engine and the cases are set into the available sessions.  The setting administrator can review the results of the setting process, including whether or not sessions are filled or if backlogs in certain divisions are significant, and make decisions on changing parameters, adding sessions, etc. to improve the court's overall position.  Once the setting administrator is satisfied with the results, the schedule is "accepted" and the setting information is provided to the Traffic Information System (TIS) so that appropriate notices can be generated.  The system has been in production since the summer of 1995, and currently sets more than 35,000 cases daily. In addition, efforts are underway to design the system to set the misdemeanor cases as well.

Imaging and Workflow Management.   The volume of traffic cases, the actions needed on each case, and the number of documents that must be handled for each case created a paper tiger that was difficult to handle. Paper files were also limited in that they could only be in one place at one time, and viewed by one person at a time.  The Imaging and Workflow Management functions in SPIRIT were designed to directly address these issues.  This component of SPIRIT has been in production since January 20, 1998.

Major functions include:

Scanning, reviewing for scan quality (QA) and document indexing.  Traffic citations are accepted either electronically, or on paper through the US Mail or over the counter. We currently accept electronic citations from a dozen Law Enforcement Agencies including toll violations from SUNPASS and MDX. Paper citations and other traffic documents are batched by major document type, scanned by a central processing group, QA'd for legibility and indexed to the appropriate case.  Certain document types (citations, witness lists and arrest forms) are also processed automatically by optical character recognition (OCR) and bar code recognition applications to reduce manual indexing requirement, which improves overall indexing accuracy.  Research is also under way to automatically capture and retain all data elements from a scanned citation bypassing the need for manual data entry.  The indexing application supports the ability to place a single document into multiple case files and to reindex a document if required to correct errors.  Upon acceptance in QA, all documents are stored permanently on fail-safe MSAR media.  Once stored, documents can be displayed simultaneously throughout the SPIRIT system by anyone with appropriate security approval.

Data Entry.  Citations, witness lists, arrest forms, and direct filings by the State Attorney are electronically sent from the QA function to the centralized Data Entry unit.  The image of each document and a 3270 mainframe window are displayed on a high-resolution CRT for entry of data into the mainframe cases management TIS system.  The case information is entered by one operator, and then automatically sent to a second operator for reentry of certain key fields for "double" verification.  If required, the image of the document can be "zoomed" so that it is displayed up to 8 times its original size in case the handwriting of the officer is unclear.  In instances where data is missing, such as the statute number, the application supports automatically routing a printed copy of the citation back to the issuing officer for correction and resubmission.  Data entry operators can also perform research into other systems, such as DHSMV, to clarify information when required.  If the data entry clerk has any question of how to handle a specific situation, the case can be electronically routed to a supervisor for comment and the supervisor can then electronically route the case back to the original operator for resolution.  Cases are routed to data entry on a supervisor-controlled priority basis, so that jail cases are handled first, criminal cases with shorter speedy trial periods are processed second and infraction citations processed last.

Information Processing.  Many document types other than citations, such as motions, notices of expiration of speedy dates, completions of traffic school, etc. are submitted to the clerk's office for processing.  Immediately after a document is accepted in the QA function, it is electronically routed, based on document routing rules, to a specific workflow queue or "in box."  Personnel specifically trained in processing the queue display the document and a 3270 window on a high-resolution CRT and take the appropriate action dictated by the document.  In some cases, the document only needs to be placed in the electronic file folder.  In other cases, for example a change of address for the defendant, updates must be posted in TIS.  Workflow queues are assigned to specific personnel by supervisors in the unit.  This assignment can be changed "on the fly" by the supervisory personnel depending on the reported backlog of any particular type of document.  Queues are also presented to each operator on a priority basis, so that critical documents (such as notices of expiration of speedy date) are processed well ahead of less critical or documents that are not time sensitive.  Unlike in the paper-based environment, the exact backlog of items and their priority is known at any point in the business day.  Documents may also be manually routed to other operators and queues for processing if required and most backoffice clerks are cross-trained in the event that other units experience backlogs.

Front Counter Processing.  In many instances, defendants and attorneys come to one of the clerk's office locations to request actions on a case.  For example, the defendant may pay associated fines, elect traffic school, request a trial or request a continuance.  Clerks at the information counters use the SPIRIT image and 3270 access windows on high-resolution CRTs to display case information and the contents of the electronic case file to assist in resolving the request.  In many cases, new forms, such as a clearance of a license suspension, will need to be created to satisfy the request.  SPIRIT accesses information on the case, pre-populates forms to save time and provide accuracy, allows the clerk to complete other information, and accepts the requesting party's signature via an electronic pen. A copy of the form is then printed for the requestor, a copy is automatically added to the permanent electronic case file, and automatic updates to the TIS system are also accomplished.

Calendaring and Motion Setting.  In some cases, the calendaring workbench does not automatically set a case.  Examples would be setting a motion for a case that will be heard the next day or setting a case on a date and time based on a request of a judge.  Processes and features similar to Information Services described above are used to accomplish these tasks.  The Calendaring unit can also automatically create personal service packets, print the packets and forward them to the appropriate departments for processing.  All documents created in the unit are added automatically to the electronic case file.  The motion setting function is also provided to judge's judicial assistants so that they can control the judge's calendar directly when required.

Public Viewing.  Workstations with simple image display and 3270 window access are provided so that attorneys and the public can make direct inquiries into the case files without clerk assistance. Within a few months, SPIRIT will be web enabled and anyone with internet access will be able to see a case summary and status, and to file on-line.

Utilities.  SPIRIT is highly table driven.  Functions are provided under secured control to customize the actions that the system takes.  A very few examples include: the types of documents that can be identified in the indexing process, the routing rules for each type of document, the addresses of the clerk’s offices, and the list of valid users and their access privileges.  Reporting functions are also provided, so that supervisors can obtain counts by processing unit and by queue of backlogged items.

Courtroom Processing.   An ever-increasing number of traffic cases are being heard in court sessions.  Actions in court create case history that must be tracked (docketed) and may create new documents that must be kept in the case file.  In the past, these actions were indicated by "stamps" on the back of the traffic citation or hand written on various forms.  The quality, legibility, and accuracy of these documents were problematic.  After court, all new documents had to be manually integrated into the case file.  In preparing for court, clerks had to search vast filing rooms for the case files, pack them into suitcases, and courier the suitcases to the various courtroom locations throughout the county.  If a case was not properly packed, then the file was not available to the judge during the hearing.  The Courtroom Processing functions in SPIRIT were developed to directly address these and other issues.  These functions of SPIRIT have been in production since November 1998 and are currently used in 24 traffic courtrooms in six locations county-wide.

Courtroom Download.  On a nightly basis, data and the electronic file for cases set for the following two days are extracted from permanent optical storage and electronically downloaded to servers that are dedicated to court operations.  These independent servers allow court to continue operations if for any reason the central permanent storage or wide area network are down. Currently a maximum of four courtrooms are assigned to any given server to again limit the impact on court operations in the event of an outage.

Precourt Processing.   Prior to the beginning of sessions, the court clerk can reorder cases on the calendar based upon the judge's preference and on attorney requests, post messages to the judge related to a particular case (such as the State Attorney has stated that an officer will be late but will be available for the case), and capture the signature of the State Attorney hearing cases in that session to be printed on any applicable forms that might be created.  In the event that a particular case needs to be heard but was not specifically scheduled for the day, the clerk can also request the electronic case file via emergency download; and the case and its images are sent electronically to the courtroom within 10 minutes.

Judge’s Workbench.   At the start of the court session, the judge logs on to a courtroom pc with a user id and password.  A summary calendar showing the sessions and case counts for the day is displayed.  The judge selects the appropriate session and each of the cases on the calendar for that session is displayed in alphabetical order, or in the order that the clerk may have modified.  The judge can hear the cases and enter his/her actions as appropriate, such as issuing bench warrants, suspending licenses, continuing the case, hearing motions, or disposing of the case with appropriate fines, costs and assignments to rehabilitation programs.  All actions are tracked for each case and displayed so that the judge can verify the actions taken. Because each judge may impose their own sentences within appropriate statute limitations, SPIRIT maintains an extensive list of possible actions, known as judge's options that allow each judge to customize how SPIRIT presents selections for the judge in the courtroom.  If a particular judge does not feel comfortable using the computer, the court clerk can enter the information for the judge, however  the judge is required to review and approve the Clerk's work before moving on to another case.  Once the actions on a case are completed, the defendant leaves the courtroom and moves on to the Post Judgment Room for final processing and paperwork; and this removes significant distraction from the courtroom environment.

Post Judgment.   After the case is heard, the defendant leaves the courtroom and goes to a central location called a "Post Judgment" Room to receive documents related to the actions taken on his/her case.  Judgment forms, instructions for schools, any orders created by the judge, and in some cases commitment orders, are electronically generated in the post judgment room.  The clerk addresses any questions the defendant may have, reviews and accepts the forms, and captures the defendant's signature via an electronic pen.  The defendant can pay or be placed on a payment plan, and get information regarding rehabilitation programs, etc. Forms are then printed and a copy of each form is given to the defendant. A copy is automatically added to the electronic case file. Along with the case history information, that includes every action taken in court, these forms complete the actions that allow a case to be heard electronically from original case creation through final disposition.

End of Session Processing.   After sessions have been completed, court clerks use SPIRIT processes that automatically post all information created in court (docketing) to the TIS system.  Since this information is automatically posted, the accuracy of the information is vastly improved.  Also, all newly created case history and case file images are copied from the dedicated courtroom servers back to the central permanent repository.  The system has the capability to save this information for an extended period of time and then forward the information later if the wide area network connection to the central permanent repository is down.  In certain situations, actions taken in court may require back office actions to be performed. In these instances, the courtroom application automatically routes cases and documents to the electronic workflow queues, much like the scanning and QA operations in the back office, for further processing.