Justice Ecosystem: Going to Court — Via the Internet

Topics: Access to Justice, Justice Ecosystem: Technology, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, State Courthouses

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MJ Cartwright is determined to make going to court less of a nightmare, especially for citizens who don’t have easy access to cars or can’t take time out for work. Cartwright is the CEO of Court Innovations, which offers options that help people quickly and accurately resolve outstanding cases — without setting foot in a courtroom.

Matterhorn by Court Innovation is “an online case and dispute resolution platform,” explains Cartwright, who earned her Electrical Engineering degree at the University of Michigan and an MBA at Eastern Michigan University. Cartwright describes Matterhorn as “spin-out of the University of Michigan Law School,” and it’s “co-founded by U-M law professor and Stanford Alumnus J.J. Prescott.”

On March 16, Cartwright presented Matterhorn at a weekly meeting of CodeX, part of the Stanford Law School. “Matterhorn brings people together in an online environment to resolve relatively minor legal issues, including small claims cases, delinquent taxes, warrants, and disputed traffic and parking cases,” Cartwright described.

Cartwright demo’d the concept by showing a mockup page of short questions that would be asked via the Internet for in a typical traffic ticket scenario. Besides traffic tickets, other typical issues that could be handled via this online resolution system include suspended licenses, warrants, parking tickets, small claims, family court issues and amnesty, she noted.

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Court Innovation’s MJ Cartwright

For example, in a warrant case, citizens can request a case review and are given options to resolve the issue. The citizen is asked why she or he had not paid the court, with response options of “I forgot; I figured I would just pay later; I didn’t have the money; or other.” They are then asked what their monthly income is; if they would be interested in a voluntary wage garnishment to help make payments; and how much they could pay per month.

The next step is that the prosecutor or law enforcement authority makes a recommendation based on the citizen’s information and driving record. Then the judges or magistrates can accept or reject the recommended offer and set the fine or alternative penalty. The citizen receives text and email notifications throughout the process, she explained.

Tracking Metrics

One of the most interesting aspects of Cartwright’s presentation was the metrics she offered. Among them:

• 40% of respondents said they would not have been able to come into the court in person.

• Cost reductions from municipalities involved:

In Washtenaw County, Mich., disputes took an average 157 minutes to resolve before the use of the online system, and just 27.36 minutes after; and fees collected use to take 1 to 2 months before, compared to just 7 to 8 days now.

In Wayne City, Mich., they saw a 7% increase in overall cases; and a 30% decrease in in-person cases, which decreased overall costs.

Four Questions

Justice Ecosystem caught up with Cartwright and asked four questions:

1. What inspired you to develop Matterhorn?

MJ Cartwright: The high volume of court cases that consist of minor infractions or lesser misdemeanors. Prescott, the University of Michigan and one of his former students were looking at ways to help the courts address these cases in an efficient, effective and fair way. We wanted to address the issue of more people accessing the court without having to physically “go to court.”

2. How many courts are using it now?

MJ Cartwright: We are working with 25 courts across Michigan, Ohio and are in the process of implementing the system in courts in Arkansas.

3. What was your biggest surprise about Matterhorn?

MJ Cartwright: We knew we could have great impact. But until we measured our outcome data at the end of last year, we did not realize that we could create similar great efficiencies in courts across multiple diverse communities. For example, case closure rates are being reduced to 7 to 10 days across almost all Matterhorn-enabled courts.

4. What’s next for Matterhorn?

MJ Cartwright: We are excited to expand our impact and access to justice by working with courts across the nation.