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Bar Association hears of new software purchased to streamline court cases

The High Court is asking members of the American Samoa Bar Association (ASBA) for assistance in writing benchmarks that can be inserted into new software called “JustWare” that the court is hoping to have installed into the court system before the end of this year.

Acting Associate Justice, Judge Elvis Pila Patea, in his presentation before members of the Bar Association during the law conference at the ASCC lecture hall over the weekend, said this new software will give the courts the tools needed to manage criminal cases, civil cases, land and title cases and also probate cases with the efficient workflow of the JustWare into the court system.

Judge Patea said the High Court and District Court operates on a manual system, manually docketing case numbers, which are then logged onto paper, stored in binders and then placed into the vault.

“From there the case is pretty much left for the attorney to drive them to their deposition and there is no active management on the part of the judges or the court to push those cases to be heard, and as a result a lot of those cases just languished.”

He added that if a lawyer or a member of the public walks into the court,  the way things operate now,  if there is no case number, it means the clerks have to manually go through the binders to look for the case numbers, which is inconvenient, because the court clerks have to go through those binders one by one.

“With this new software, the court clerks can search not only by case name, but also by case number. “First name, last name, middle name or an AKA — whatever the name that is given, JustWare can pull it out from the court system”, said the Judge.

Patea explained that in 2006 after exploring the idea of having a better equipped system for the court, they applied for funding in which they received a grant by the Department of Interior through the technical assistance program.

There were a few setbacks and in January 2012 they finally awarded the contract to New Dawn Technologies out of Utah, he said, adding that this is the same software that  is used by CNMI. The software was scheduled to be installed this July, however a few snags led to a three-month delay, he said, noting that the new case management software should be in place by the end of the year.

“Some of the District Court records cannot be accessed by the High Court, and the traffic records are not accessible by High Court.The probation office has their own record, which only they have access to, he stated.

The financial systems — where the information about money that’s held in trust etc. — “we don’t have equal access, however with JustWare that is going to change.”

Patea said the lack of a proper case management system has resulted in a backlog of too many cases for far too long.  

The judge said he was assigned to review old cases last year with land cases and civil cases. “In my review of land cases from 1986 to 2005 — out of that, were 196 cases that were set for calendar call and out of that, 192 were closed — 192 cases where nothing happened.

“The review of civil cases which dated as far as back to 1989 up to 2007 (with the exception of 2,000 cases that were affected by the 2009 tsunami being restored in Texas) there were 375,  and 361 were set for calendar call.  361 civil cases ended up being closed  and only 14 cases moved on for further action before the judges”, said Judge Patea. He said the goal of JustWare is to keep track of the cases and move them along in a reasonable amount of time.

Patea reminded the lawyers about a memo that the Chief Justice issued last year asking the lawyers to look at writing benchmarks for the progress of the cases and with JustWare, they will be inserted into the case management system.

“The criminal case is not much of a problem, only a few cases fall through the cracks,  however the land and titles cases and probate cases are where the problem is. These are the types of cases that need those benchmarks and those timelines.”

One idea Patea suggested was “automatically setting a date for a status hearing after a complaint is filed with no default judgments and possibly setting that status hearing for 45 or 60 days. “Right now after the case is given a case number, it is logged, put in a binder and put away in the vault.”

     Nobody goes back to check on it and something will only happen to that case when the attorney files something to bring it in front of a judge. By setting these benchmarks with the understanding of the bar in 45 days or 60 days for a status hearing after a complaint is filed, it forces the parties to come back, and for the court to see what’s happening here.

“Depending on the benchmarks that everyone can agree on... they can be four months or six months or however long. The bar can determine this based on the different issues involved in those cases.

This can be worked out and then it can be presented to the judiciary either by way of rule or a judiciary memo and with the deadlines to be set into the case management system. In that way, everybody will know what is expected of them when their cases come up again.”