Friday, 4 March 2011

The Future is Not Paper - Part 4

Syndicated Court Calendars

Court calendaring is simply a nightmare.  But as we all know, calendars are the grease in the court's wheels.  And without the structure and schedules, the judicial process would be chaos.  But while Case Management Systems have done a good job of being able to store preferences and automatically search for the next available time based upon a jurisdiction's complex rules, these capabilities and information sharing have not extended beyond the courthouse walls.

One brief example: In 2005, the Governor of the State of New Mexico, Bill Richardson asked the legislature for additional judges partly because of scheduling issues.  The Police Sergeant in charge of DWI crime in Albuquerque, NM reported that:
"scheduling nightmares abound for officers. In a single afternoon, he's been scheduled to attend three trials and three pretrial interviews. That's problematic because arresting officers are often the only witnesses in DWI cases so many are dismissed when officers fail to appear in court. 
"I have eight officers on this unit, and they make 2,200 to 2,500 DWI arrests a year," Brown said. "When I get a (failure to appear) notice on one of them, I research it, and a lot of times I find that one officer was scheduled in 12 different courtrooms in the morning alone."(see Endnote 1)
Courts use primarily manual processes to calendar and schedule (I've even seen white boards).  The current "technologies" are:

  • The automated CMS for setup and recording the core calendar structure and scheduling events.
  • Telephone and E-mail with voice and manual negotiation by staff (calendar clerks and judicial assistants) and requesting attorneys, paralegals, and litigants.
  • Face-to-face meetings (in courtrooms, chambers, etc.) with everyone consulting their individual calendars is one of the most common ways that schedules are set.
  • And even a few courts employing instant messaging
  • All methods employ a lot of personal time and effort to communicate even the most basic information.  

But there are some interesting ideas that have been developing in recent years that could be part of a future solution.  John Udell is a "Technology Evangelist" with Microsoft Corporation and formerly a columnist with  InfoWorld and the "classic" Byte magazines as well as a person who's writings I follow closely via his blog.

In recent years he became interested in problems surrounding calendars and their inefficiency and ineffectiveness.  And this past December (2010) he gave a talk at Harvard University Law School's Berkman Center.(see Endnote 2).  The video webcast for online or download viewing can be found at:   In the talk he explains his "elmcity project" that created a web enabled community calendar supporting "information syndication".

There are a lot of ideas in that last sentence and so let's break it down:

1. Web Enabled - meaning that it can easily send and receive information using internet standards.
2. Community - meaning shared and open.
3. Information syndication - meaning you can subscribe to personally receive the information being shared in the calendar.

Now doesn't something like that sound like there are some ideas in there that might make the tortured world of court calendaring and scheduling easier?  I think so; and therefore let's continue.

Specifically as he writes in his blog post about elmcity and his Harvard talk:

  • Realize that event data published in a structured format, unlike data published as HTML or PDF, can be routed through a publication/subscription syndication networks.
  • Make public calendars available in the appropriate structured format: iCalendar (RFC 5545), the venerable Internet standard supported by all major calendar applications and services.
  • Recognize that iCalendar is the RSS of calendars. It can enable a calendar-sphere in which, as in the blogosphere, everyone can publish their own feeds and also subscribe to feeds from other people  or from network services.
  • Help build the data web by owning the parts of it for which we ourselves are the authoritative  sources.

Let's talk about this iCalendar standard.  Nearly everyone uses the iCalendar standard if you have a smart phone (like a Blackberry) that automatically connects with your Microsoft Exchange Calendar; even if you don't realize it.  This is the best kind of standard for users because you don't need to do anything, it just simply works.

But John Udell realized that it could and should do more.  As originally developed iCalendar was limited in the usual scope of implementation. An analogy might be "texting" between cell phones before Twitter.  Texting basically is one to one communications while Twitter allows the message to be sent to anyone who subscribes to the feed.  And one other fact, many of the commercial Court Case Management Systems vendors already have provided connections/extensions from the court calendar to Microsoft Exchange and/or to the iPhone/Blackberry using the iCalendar standard.

So with the "elmcity project" Mr. Udell has created an ability for the shared calendar to be fed the information from many sources and in turn, send that calendar schedule to those who subscribe.  The elmcity service is an example of what Rohit Khare memorably called syndication-oriented  architecture.  And while "elmcity" doesn't replace the court's CMS calendar, it provides a concept for a web service that extends and facilitates calendaring information sharing via the web.  And in another article Mr. Udell explains how one can manage their private and public calendars together. Again, doesn't this sounds a lot like what courts do every day?

He has published an extensive FAQ about the elmcity project at:

And as mentioned above, to see some elmcity calendars that have already been created go to:

Therefore in summary, there is a standard, iCalendar that allows for scheduling information to be created and shared.  The elmcity project provides for subscription and syndication of that information to those who choose to receive it.

Much more discussion to come?

1) Retrieved from: in 2009 from an Associated Press article published on January 17, 2005 titled: Richardson pledges more judgeships, more funding for prosecutors at DWI summit.

2) We here at the NCSC are long time admirers of the Berkman Center staff having hosted two keynote speakers at Court Technology Conferences, Prof. Jonathan Zittrain in 1999 and Prof. Charles Ogletree in 2001.

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