- Success Story
How Lewisville, TX Digitally Transformed Their Municipal Court Experience
While many cities leveraged digital solutions to keep municipal courts running during the COVID pandemic, the City of Lewisville, TX, used the opportunity to approach larger issues as well. Their digital transformation increased sensitivity to the needs of residents and court users, improved access and convenience for defendants wanting to resolve their cases, and changed the culture of the court to a service-oriented approach that could be seen as more fair and equitable to more people.
- 10% increase in case clearance post-COVID
- Nearly $4M in collections
- Increased collections, despite declining citations
- Nearly 500 registrants through online jury registration in first year
Meeting the Needs of the Court Calendar
A suburban community of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Lewisville, TX, sits near the hub of big city activity, while providing a respite from its stress and hassles. While that proximity can create opportunities for business and culture for residents and visitors alike, when it comes to civic issues, such as appearances in municipal court, the small community can often find it difficult to bring those from the big city back to town.
Keeping track of long-planned dates may be a mild inconvenience for local residents, but for those who live out of state, it often meant a defendant who was less likely to appear.
“People who live out of state and maybe were just passing through on a holiday,” said Leonard. “It can be a big ordeal to make another trip back to Texas to resolve their case.”
As with all courts, Leonard’s team wanted to increase disposition rates of cases, but found themselves facing an enormous backlog that often led to cases either going to warrant or defaulting when the defendant either forgot their court date or was unable to return to Lewisville to appear.
Keeping in touch with the public, answering questions, and making sure that defendants were more likely to make their appearances was, according to Leonard, a manual process. But Leonard and the Lewisville staff were about to face a forced adaptation that brought with it the tools they needed to achieve their goals.
Providing a Digital Connection to Stay on Track
Leonard took his position in Lewisville in January 2021, at the height of the COVID pandemic. Coming from a smaller court where he had been involved in implementing digital solutions to problems, Leonard saw the opportunity to leverage his experience on a larger scale in Lewisville.
“Where I had come from, we were using Zoom five years before the pandemic even happened,” said Leonard. “So we were already aware that this would work. We were just implementing it in a larger court than what I had been in before. We knew this project would be a continual work in progress, but early on, we did roll many of these initial processes out at warp speed so that we could make an immediate impact.”
Armed with a newly purchased dedicated website, Leonard’s team turned to Granicus and tools such as govAccess to create a digital experience that reached residents in multiple user-friendly channels and helped them find answers to their questions, provide instructions, and offer defendants the opportunity to resolve their cases in a more convenient and efficient manner.
The flexibility of govAccess allowed Leonard’s team to quickly establish a new digital presence and create a base from which new tools could be easily implemented, changing the way that residents interacted with court services.
“The initial goal with the website was to make it as user-friendly as possible,” said Leonard. “From there we started implementing these new procedures of online court, such as getting your paperwork signed remotely, making online requests, and other features implemented into the website that could help defendants resolve their cases without having to physically come into the court building.”
Leonard added that the convenient, easy-to-use structure of govAccess allowed the website to evolve as new tools were added.
Online forms were another major step in Lewisville’s digital transformation. Forms provided a more interactive way for defendants to make requests on their cases or provide information to the court. Online juror registration forms also allowed jurors to register for their jury duty and provided the court with their contact information so jurors could receive a text notification if their jury service was canceled.
Text messaging and online chat also gave new ways for residents and defendants to communicate with the court remotely and save time. Implementing text message reminders allowed the court to keep defendants aware of such important information as upcoming court dates, payment due dates, or status alerts regarding their case, information that, over the course of time between appearance dates, could otherwise be lost or forgotten. Lewisville’s text messages are integrated with their third-party payment vendor, which allows residents to act on fees directly from the text notice, removing the need to physically go to the courthouse for payment and reducing the likelihood of missed payment deadlines.
The most recent tool implemented, Lewisville’s web chat, allows defendants to chat with a court clerk about their case. By enabling defendants to easily contact the court from their cell phone or computer, they can sign up for court dates or even resolve their cases in real time by signing up for deferred disposition, driver’s safety course, payment plans, or compliance dismissals.
The digital changes also created the need to bring a new approach to how work was handled in the court, said Leonard, resulting in efficiencies. By developing teams dedicated to digital service over phone, chat, and in-person needs, staff have become experts in primary tasks and developed the skills to deliver good service in all areas of interaction.
“The workload gets dispersed so that Defendants are not all showing up at the window,” said Leonard. “Rather, staff can provide quality customer service to defendants by helping them resolve their cases in-person, over the phone, through webchat or text messaging. The court staff is broken up into teams that cover each of these customer service touching points and as they have become more comfortable with their assigned area it has allowed our court to really focus on providing the best possible customer service to our defendants. I think we’re starting to see some real efficiencies in doing the work this way because clerks are able to specialize in their assigned customer service task.”
Efficiencies and New Services for the Future
The success of Lewisville’s digital approach can be seen both in the statistical impact, as well as the growing vision for increased digital services.
Lewisville has seen increased court disposition and clearance rates, improved defendant court attendance, a reduction in excessive warrants and failure to appears, and increased sagging collection rates.
Despite a declining number of citations issued, nearly a 40% drop compared to pre-COVID numbers, collections from the court have grown year over year after a dip in 2020. Case clearance rates also have seen an increase of over 10% from 2021 to 2022.
“We’ve seen a higher turnout for court,” said Leonard. “And, long term, we may be efficient enough that our team could become even smaller the more we automate things. But right now, the biggest benefit is increased fine collections despite decreased ticket issuance going. We’ve received fewer tickets filed in the court, but the revenue has stayed the same or increased. And I think that’s just a result of being more efficient and getting people to resolve their cases sooner before they forget.”
New tools — such as online jury registration — while still in their infancy are picking up steam, as well, Leonard said, with nearly 500 residents already taking advantage of the online process. For Leonard, it’s a sign of where things can grow.
“Ultimately I want to get to the point where our legal team would agree to let us send text messages out to everybody from the minute they get their ticket,” he said of future development. “I think we would see a lot of success because people have told us that had they not received a text message they would’ve forgotten about their court date. It’s been really helpful for people.”
Despite the efficiencies for staff and costs, or the increased collections from declining issuances, Leonard believes that the digital approach to court services goes beyond providing conveniences; it builds a stronger relationship between the courts and the community.