“Reengineering is the natural extension of eCourtMN.
Through reengineering, we are taking the new technologies of eCourtMN, and utilizing them to make our courts more responsive to the needs of our customers.
We are strengthening our court system by making them more cohesive and more unified.
By taking a fresh look at how we do our work, we are implementing new efficiencies that will not only enhance our service to the public, but will also make our courts more resilient to the challenges and changes that lie ahead.”
State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba
In 2012, the Minnesota Judicial Branch launched what would become known as the largest transformation in the 150-year history of the state’s court system. Through the eCourtMN initiative, Minnesota transitioned from paper-based court files towards an all-electronic case record, including eFiling, expanded access to court records, and electronic information-sharing within the justice system.
With the infrastructure of eCourtMN largely in place, in 2017, the Minnesota Judicial Branch began exploring new ways to leverage the technologies of eCourtMN to enhance its service to the public. Having removed the limitations of working with paper-based court records, the Judicial Branch has been able to explore news ways of doing business, reengineering old business practices to make court services faster and more convenient. These reengineering efforts – many of which are highlighted below – have been focused on offering court users high-quality, consistent, and convenient service, no matter which courthouse in the state they visit.
Ensuring Statewide Court Services
The Minnesota Judicial Branch is charged with ensuring access to justice for all Minnesotans, and maintains court operations in 106 locations across the state – more locations than any other part of state government. But the scope of work of Minnesota’s courts varies considerably from county to county.
Nearly 500,000 cases were filed in Hennepin County District Court in 2016, and those cases were heard by 62 judges, 16 referees, and five child support magistrates, and processed by hundreds of staff. By contrast, in many rural counties court is in session once or twice per week, and judges may hear cases in several different counties in their district in a week. In early 2017, 17 county courthouses had fewer than two full-time employees processing case filings and staffing the customer service windows.
As part of the Judicial Branch’s reengineering efforts, in 2017 the Minnesota Judicial Council approved a plan that relies on flexibility provided by the electronic case record to shift case processing work that used to be done in 87 counties to the state’s lowest-volume courthouses. Through this effort, each courthouse in the state now has enough case processing work to ensure the presence of two full-time staff, meaning public service windows will remain open and available five days a week in even the most rural county courthouses.
Highlights of the plan include:
Moving the Minnesota Judicial Branch Central Appeals Unit (CAU) from the Fourth Judicial District (Hennepin County) to the district courts in Lincoln and Pipestone counties. The CAU serves as a liaison between the state’s 87 trial courts and two appellate courts, preparing a comprehensive file of relevant district court documents and exhibits to send to the Court of Appeals or the Minnesota Supreme Court when a case is appealed.
- The work of processing expedited child support orders from all 87 district courts is now centralized among a group of specialized staff working in Minnesota’s Eighth Judicial District in western Minnesota.
- Staff in the Ninth Judicial District in northwest Minnesota have assumed the work related to jury qualification and summoning for all 87 district courts.
Statewide Collaboration and Staff Specialization
The eCourtMN initiative has also made it easier for Minnesota’s 10 judicial districts and 87 district courts to share work across boundaries.
For example, the Sixth Judicial District has centralized many of the functions that used to be donein six different courthouses across four counties in the Arrowhead region. The District now features a centralized copy center, specialized staff handling the acceptance of eFiled documents, and specialized staff processing all probate and minor civil case work for the District. The Sixth District has even taken on the work of processing default judgment casework from Hennepin County, a great step forward in cross-district collaboration.
All 10 of Minnesota’s judicial districts are engaging in similar efforts to increase efficiency by centralizing and regionalizing case processing work that used to be spread across multiple counties. This includes a statewide effort to specialize the work of reviewing eFiled documents as they are received by the court and ensuring they are correctly classified so that public information is made available to the public, and private and sensitive data is kept confidential. By shifting this statewide work to specialized staff experts, the Judicial Branch is working to speed up the process of reviewing and accepting eFiled documents for court users, while ensuring the proper safeguards are in place to protect Minnesotans’ private information.
Increasing the Statewide Consistency of Court Operations
For most of Minnesota history, the state’s trial courts were county-funded and county-operated, and court users working between different court locations could experience significant differences in service between courthouses.
By the mid-2000s, Minnesota had transitioned to a state-funded, unified trial court system. While this transition reduced some of the variance between district courts, some local practices and customs remained.
As a statewide entity serving all 87 counties, the Minnesota Judicial Branch recognizes that bringing greater consistency to statewide court operations is critical to improving the customer experience for court users. As part of the post-eCourt reengineering work, leaders from all 10 judicial districts in Minnesota agreed to work collaboratively on an initiative to standardize many case processing procedures between all 87 district courts in the state. Ultimately, this effort should significantly reduce the differences court users may experience when working in different courthouses.
The work that was undertaken in 2017 is just the first step of the reengineering the Judicial Branch aims to accomplish in the post-eCourtMN world. The Judicial Branch has established a statewide steering committee of judges and court staff charged with exploring new opportunities for smart reengineering of court operations, all with the goal of making Minnesota’s court system consistent, convenient, and focused on meeting the needs of court users across the state.