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More Online Court Options

February 28th, 2015 · No Comments

Just a little over two years ago, we reported on a new trend in some courts: allowing people to fight their traffic tickets by mail. That was a departure from the traditional choices of paying your ticket, or having to go to court in person to fight it. Yet only two months later, we reported on a newer trend in some courts: allowing people go fight their parking tickets online. Tellingly, we closed that post with the observation that “[a]s with any innovation that makes life easier, more are sure to follow. ”

In the last two years, much more has followed. In the traffic ticket post, we noted a few Washington State courts that allowed ticket contests by mail; now there are many more. Along with the increased use of hearings by mail, several Washington courts now allow hearing requests to be submitted by e-mail – not only for parking tickets, but also for traffic tickets and other minor offenses. These minor offenses are called “infractions” in Washington. In order to respond to an infraction ticket, you can of course choose to simply pay the fine. But you can also request a mitigation hearing to explain the circumstances in hopes of convincing the judge to reduce the charges; or you can request a contested hearing in hopes of getting the charge dismissed.

The procedure adopted by many Washington courts starts with an online form on the court’s website, which you fill out with your contact information and a statement as to why you think the ticket should be reduced or dismissed. This form generates an e-mail which is sent to the court; the court then makes a decision and replies via e-mail. Some examples include Clallam County District Court,  Douglas County District Court, and Cheney Municipal Court.

Spokane County District Court even has an “eDeferral” program: You can request a deferral of your traffic ticket online; if granted, and you complete traffic school and stay ticket-free for a year, the charge will be dismissed. All this without leaving the comfort of your keyboard or touchscreen. Thurston County District Court even allows online deferral requests for non-traffic offenses, in addition to its online mitigation hearing request.

Check CourtReference for your own state, county, and court, and check our Online Resources links (or the court’s own website) to see if your local court offers any of these technological time-savers.

→ No CommentsTags: Court Systems · Courtreference.com · Technology · Washington

A New Type of Court Record

January 28th, 2015 · No Comments

CourtReference loves court records. Each of our state guides has links to many different kinds of court-related resources, but the most popular are the links to online court records. If your court doesn’t have records online – or if you need to see the original hardcopy – each CourtReference state guide provides contact information for every trial court in the state, so you can locate the court and arrange to see the records.

We like to talk about court records on this blog too; we’ve covered the things you need to know about court records here, the many new court record resources being added here and here, technology and access issues here, tips for name searches here, and misconceptions about court records (including which are free and which are not) here.

We like court records so much that we’re always on the lookout for new ones, and more and more courts are putting their records online. We like to see new types of records too. Brief reports of procedural events are fine, but images of actual court documents are even better.

How about online recordings of court hearings? They have recently become available for some municipal courts in Washington State. They are provided by a private company, but they’re free to users. Here’s an example from the City of Bothell WA. Note that these audio sessions are not searchable by party name, case number, or other typical court record search options. But if you know the date of the case you’re interested in, you can listen to that day’s proceedings and it’s almost like being in the courtroom.

We have links to these on our Washington Courts Guide’s “Search Court Case Records” category page; just scroll down to King County to find links to five Municipal Courts’ audio sessions.

→ No CommentsTags: Courtreference.com · Finding Court Records · New Sites · Technology · Washington

Conciliation: A New Form of Dispute Resolution

December 29th, 2014 · No Comments

When people have a disagreement that can’t be resolved by simply discussing the problem, they may end up going to court for a resolution  - especially if the disagreement involves something as important as family issues or large sums of money. Going to court can be very expensive if you hire a lawyer, and it still costs some money (e.g., filing fees) if you don’t hire a lawyer. It’s very time consuming either way, especially if you don’t hire a lawyer.

And it’s not quick; courts are busy, many court systems are underfunded and overburdened, and it can be months or years before your case can be heard. That’s why other methods of resolving disputes have been developed. These other methods are commonly referred to as “Alternative Dispute Resolution” - “ADR” for short – and we discussed them in detail here. Mediation, arbitration, and other forms of ADR use neutral third parties to guide the adversaries to a mutually acceptable solution, faster and cheaper than a court case.

Many courts themselves require parties in certain types of cases – most frequently divorce or child custody cases – to pursue ADR before going to trial; the case then proceeds to trial only if the ADR process doesn’t produce an agreement. Another very common use of ADR is foreclosure mediation, which attempts to help homeowners stay in their homes and at the same time help lenders avoid the cost of a foreclosure action in court. We discussed foreclosure mediation here, here, and here.

ADR is usually intended to fully resolve the dispute. Joe says Fred owes him $10,000. Fred says he doesn’t owe Joe anything. An ADR session may suggest that Fred really owes $5,000, and Fred and Joe agree on that figure. End of story, unless Fred or Joe doesn’t like that suggestion and insists on going to court. However, note that going to court may not be an option if a contract specifies that arbitration is the only method of resolving a dispute; in this situation, the arbitrator’s decision is final.

But many disputes can’t be boiled down to a single issue, and many court cases involve the settling of related issues before the main issue is decided. To accomplish this, the parties file motions with the court, asking the court for a decision on the related issue. The other party may file a motion in opposition, asking for a different decision.

For example, after a civil case is filed, the next step is usually “discovery” in which each side asks the other side to provide documents or sworn testimony about the facts in dispute. One side may file a motion to avoid discussing certain things or turning over certain documents. The other side then files a motion asking the court to compel the discovery. Some motions are filed after the main issues is resolved, such as a motion to modify child support or visitation, filed after the original divorce decree. Motions are normally resolved by the judge in a separate hearing; in cases with a lot of motions, there are a lot of separate hearings that must be scheduled and attended. This can go on for a long time, and the judge’s decision on each motion may be preceded by long presentations, explanations, and arguments from each side.

The Fairfax Law Foundation, a non-profit charitable corporation set up by the Fairfax Bar Association, provides education about the law to the public, community outreach, and free legal services to indigent parties in Virginia’s City of Fairfax and Fairfax County. To help relieve court congestion and delays, and to help parties in court cases resolve related issues faster, the Foundation instituted a unique Conciliation Program to resolve motions and petitions.

The program’s Conciliators are trained, experienced volunteer lawyers. At the request of one or both parties, they help the parties resolve the dispute over the motion outside the courtroom. Scheduling and meeting places are more flexible than in the court system itself; some sessions can be done by telephone or fax. If the parties don’t agree in advance, Conciliators are even available on the day the motion is to be heard. If an agreement is reached, the parties may withdraw their motion, or advise the judge that they have come to an agreement so that the motion can be decided without a protracted argument.

Information about the Fairfax Bar Foundation’s Conciliation Program and many other ADR programs may be found online. The easiest way to find ADR program websites in your area is to check CourtReference’s “Self-Help and Legal Research” category for your court or county.

 

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