2nd Annual CourtHack in New Jersey: Solving Vexing Blocks to Justice

Topics: Access to Justice, Efficiency, Justice Ecosystem, Legal Innovation, State Courthouses

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In late April, 38 participants gathered at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick for CourtHack, a 30-hour hackathon, with the goal of taking away some of the panic, fear and worry from citizens who have been summoned to court. CourtHack — which carried the tag line, “Making Justice Fair and Accessible For All” — is in its second year, and it’s designed to improve the “administration of justice.”

The organizer of the event was the National Center for State Courts(NCSC) and the producer was HackerNest Toronto. Sponsors were One Legal, Equivant, Cisco Meraki and Make School. The 12 teams participating had plenty of expert mentors: judges, administrators and CIOs from around the country.

The competition wasn’t only fueled by altruism — there were hefty awards for the winners: Grand Prize was $5,000; second place, $3,000; and the four runner-up teams each received $1,500, among other awards.

“We allowed commercial vendors to participate [this year],” said Paul Embley, Chief Information Officer at the NCSC. “The ideas and concepts presented can be turned into products that will really benefit the public and the courts,” he said, adding that they’ve now had two years in a row where ideas will actually be further developed and become viable. (The first year was held March 4-5, 2016 at the Utah Supreme Court/Matheson Courthouse, in Salt Lake City.)

This year, the race began at 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 22 and continued until 4:45 p.m. Sunday, April 23, when the winners were announced and the prizes award.

Read Our exclusive interview with the CourtHack Grand Prize Winners!

5 Challenge Sets & a Bonus

The organizers created five “challenge sets” for the contenders — but also included a “wildcard” option:

1. Fairness in Fee, Fines and Bail Practices: Rosa’s story — She was pulled over and didn’t have her current registration in the car. She got a $285 ticket and she couldn’t take time off work to go to court and could not pay the amount. She risked getting a higher fine and have her license suspended, which would mean she would not be able to get to work.

2. Fairness: Leveling the Playing Field: Tony’s story — His landlord took Tony to court because he withheld rent. He went to court, but he got lost and missed the appointment, and so the court ruled in the landlord’s favor.

3. Understanding Customer Experience: Angela and Marshall’s story — They are working at a local court to take care of the estate of her mother, who had died. They have taken advantage of self-help and in-person discussions with court staff. While they are having a positive experience, they get stuck occasionally. The problem: The court has no idea where they got stuck.

4. Translating Legalese to Folksonomy: Lou’s story — His small business has been sued by a supplier. He’s online trying to learn about lawsuits, but he can’t decipher the legal words.

5. Social Support for Families in Crisis: Andrew’s story — He and his wife are going through a painful divorce and working out custody of their children while she seeks treatment for drug abuse. He feels isolated and she is confused about court appearances. Each of them needs more support.

6. Wildcard! Closing Gaps in the court system. (Contestants could opt for an idea that doesn’t fit in the five offered above.)

The Judges

The 10 event judges included judges, lawyers, administrators and others:

  •        Kevin Bowling, Trial Court Administrator and Attorney Referee for the 20th Judicial Circuit Court and the Ottawa County Probate Court, in Ottawa County, Michigan;
  •        Amy Ceraso, Director of IT for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts;
  •        Tom Clarke, VP for Research & Technology at the National Center for State Courts;
  •        Luis Diaz, Director of Intellectual Property & Chief Diversity Officer at Gibbins;
  •        Danielle Fox: Coordinator of Research and Performance for the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland;
  •        Judge Glenn Grant, J.A.D. Acting Administrative Director of New Jersey Courts;
  •        Paul Halvorson, Portfolio Management Coordinator at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts;
  •        Judge Libby Hines, 15th Judicial District Court bench in Ann Arbor, Michigan;
  •        Sue Humphreys, Director of Industry Relations at Equivant; and
  •        Miles Winder III, Past President of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

The Verdict

After the 30 hours — which included three breakfasts, two lunches, three dinners and a midnight snack; as well as demo instructions, pitch practices and feedback, and then the demonstrations, judging and deliberations — the winners were announced.

The Grand Prize was won by Team Tiger, for “eBenchCard.” Said CourtHack in its detailed web post: “Defendant’s hope for justice — is an electronic app (both web-based and mobile) which will allow defendants to present their inability to pay legal financial obligations (LFO) to a judicial officer and get alternative options. Team: Vijay Deep (Software Developer) and Akbar Farook (SME, UI Developer, Partner, Global Justice Solutions).

Second place was won by Team Rock Solid: “FairnessCenter” The team included Yanira Rivera Negrónand Eduardo J. Díaz Sánchez (web developers) and Alexis Pérez Orona (database developer/business.)

Runner-ups were “Bench,” by Team DXC; “TJB” by Team The Justice Bot; “Been Served,” by Team Justice League 2.0; and “CourtBot,” by Team AI Visual.

You can see a video about the CourtHack event here.