A New Era of Public Access to Court Records
The Common Pleas Case Management System (CPCMS) developed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has literally ushered in a new era in public access to court records. At no time have court records been so accessible. Electronic criminal court records from 67 counties across the state are now only a key stroke away from any Internet user – with general information made available to the public and confidential information made available only to authorized users within the court system as well as within the criminal justice system of Pennsylvania.
One of the primary goals of this statewide judicial automation system was to improve understanding of court records by providing standardized procedures, notices, and forms in all of Pennsylvania’s counties. Judicial automation also greatly expands the public’s access to court records and schedules, and it improves law enforcement capabilities through the sharing of critical data between many judicial districts and agencies.
Simultaneously, the Administrative of Office Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), the department that managed the deployment of CPCMS, has collaborated with its business partners in state and local governments to support and enhance the Executive Branch’s Justice Network. In doing so, the benefits of automation within the judiciary have been extended many-fold to those within the criminal justice community.
Although judicial automation was the primary goal of the CPCMS, another significant benefit realized by the system is public safety. Not only does the system help the courts provide justice more expeditiously, it also helps to remove more fugitives from the street. For example, by providing near real-time warrant information across all the counties of Pennsylvania, CPCMS has made it possible to apprehend many criminals with outstanding warrants that would have otherwise gone undetected during routine traffic stops or while visiting county courthouses to pay fines.
Enhancing Pennsylvania Law Enforcement
User groups of CPCMS include the Clerk of Courts, Chambers, and Court Administrators of the Criminal Courts of Common Pleas in all Pennsylvania counties. These staff members include filing office clerks and supervisors; administrative and financial staff; Court Administration and scheduling staff; judges and their staffs; and additional court personnel who need access to case information. Approximately 8,100 CPCMS users directly access the application system across the state.
CPCMS also allows courts and end-users to automatically share court-case docket information. This feature is particularly important when a case is moved from one court level to the next or from one county to the next. Instead of re-keying the case docket information, the receiving court can automatically retrieve all information to process the case as expediently as possible. The system also gives the courts the ability to manage case timelines and calculate ahead of time when case milestones will occur. This feature has proven invaluable to defendants and their lawyers, district attorneys, witnesses and court personnel who need to determine when to allocate their time to a case.
In addition to assisting the Pennsylvania courts, CPCMS has also enhanced Pennsylvania law enforcement. Warrant information is automatically posted and shared with criminal justice agencies across the state. The up-to-date information has led to the apprehension of many fugitives with outstanding warrants that might otherwise have gone unnoticed during a routine traffic violation stop or other minor infraction. When accessing the CPCMS, users are alerted when a person they interact with has been issued a warrant from any county in the state.
Law enforcement personnel access the Court’s secure web portal, through their Justice Network (JNET) connection, to view secure information replicated from the CPCMS production environment. The system also offers web-based public information that allows any citizen to see case scheduling and other basic information about each case. All access to the web portal is controlled through tight role-level security.
The web portal helps law enforcement personnel that must appear in court as witnesses as well as citizens that need to attend a trial. They can simply check the web portal before traveling to the courthouse to make sure the case is taking place or to find out if a continuance has been granted. This has cut down on the traffic at clerk offices as well as law enforcement overtime pay.
Since the CPCMS system has gone live, it has drawn attention from other states during court technology conferences. Few states have developed a statewide unified judicial case management system, and no state the size of Pennsylvania has completed an undertaking this massive. To succeed, the project required a total commitment from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Legislature and all 67 county courts in the Commonwealth.
CPCMS, along with the Magisterial District Judge System (MDJS) and the Pennsylvania Appellate Case Management System (PACMS), have been combined to place the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the forefront of court technology nationwide.
Improving Court Processes
Delivering on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s mandate, CPCMS has fundamentally changed and improved the court processes, creating uniformity and an underlying operating language.
CPCMS helps agencies and citizens inside and outside of the Pennsylvania Courts:
- Law enforcement agencies now receive warrant information faster so arrests can be made quickly, which in turn creates a safer environment for citizens.
- Citizens benefit from the web portal that allows them to track scheduling and other activities associated with cases.
- District Attorneys have the ability to receive Common Pleas case information as well as the ability to transmit data on criminal charges being filed in the Courts of Common Pleas.
- Pennsylvania Department of Transportation receives dispositions for traffic-related offenses.
- Department of Revenue receives electronic summaries and details of all collections on a monthly basis to track monies received and disbursed to all Commonwealth funds.
- Auditor General receives accounting information for the completion of statewide audits.
- Department of Health receives information on the Tobacco Enforcement initiative.
- Pennsylvania State Police receives information on the compliance with Megan’s Law, and reportable dispositions to the criminal history repository.
- CPCMS receives nightly updates on inmate status from the Department of Corrections.
- Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing receives information which in turn helps judges determine sentencing guidelines.
- The general public can now view public cases and court calendars online.
Migrating Disparate Systems
The mandate from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court provided the impetus for the statewide project and the funding appropriated by the legislature ensured this project would be successfully completed. While the project had the support it needed, without the proper technology it would have taken the court system much longer to successfully implement the solution.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania needed technology flexible enough to incorporate the wide diversity of county business practices. Each county runs its courts somewhat differently and has people in different job roles handling different job responsibilities. To bring them all into the same system, the state needed a level of customization and a training staff that could customize technical training materials for each county.
The Commonwealth migrated legacy system data from 66 of 67 counties (1 county used a manual paper-based system) that utilized 47 distinct computer systems ranging from home-grown internal systems to off-the-shelf software with database management system platforms. Some were Windows-based, but most were not. Some counties stored data in more than one system, and physical formatting challenges had to be overcome. But the biggest challenge was determining what all the data meant and mapping it to the new common system. Unfortunately, the data could not just be moved – it had to be interpreted. A significant gap existed because many of legacy systems did not have the kind of control over the lookup values of the metadata compared to what CPCMS offered. The AOPC needed to work with the counties to map each data element to the new CPCMS.
The Commonwealth migrated between two and four counties per month by closing down each courthouse on a Friday night and completing the migration over the weekend. Each county had no choice but to go live again by Monday morning, so technology that offered a smooth transition was critical. In the end, the Commonwealth migrated 5.6 million cases from the legacy systems of the 66 counties.
A key attribute of the technology is security. Row-level security is employed through the use of layered security views and the implementation of security in stored procedures. Application and database roles are used to implement security against views and stored procedures. Security access levels are then established by each county as part of the customization process. Multiple levels of system access are given to each user depending on his/her roles. Menu items and subsequent screens are enabled or disabled based on a user’s security roles. The system also includes a sophisticated audit trail of every user action that adds or modifies data.
Sybase Technologies Play Crucial Roles in Success of Overall Solution
Key components of the technology include Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE), Replication Server, and EAServer (Application Server) as well as PowerDesigner for data modeling. This system runs on Sun Microsystems server hardware and the CPCMS interface was developed using the Microsoft .NET development platform. Sybase and Deloitte Consulting have also provided technical consulting services during the planning, development and deployment of this system.
First of Its Kind
AOPC Improves Case-Processing System Query-Performance with Sybase ASE Partitions
Very few states in the U.S. have a comprehensive, statewide system for criminal case management. Among those states that do, no state with a population at least the size of Pennsylvania has succeeded in deploying such a system. With the diversity of county courts, and the strong desire for local control, it requires a major commitment from a state to succeed in unifying case management across all of its counties, particularly a state such as Pennsylvania with 67 counties and a population approaching 12.5 million people.
The effort to deploy CPCMS is in itself original because few state Supreme Courts have been bold enough to put forth a mandate to deploy a unified case management system. And few state legislatures have been creative enough to find a way to fund such a system. For CPCMS, no public tax dollars were spent. Primary funding came from revenue generated by the courts via court fees and increases in fines and costs collected by the courts.
But even with a Supreme Court mandate and creative Legislature financing, few states would still have the means to bring together all the counties to create a shared vision for how a unified case management system can create efficiencies while also helping law enforcement agencies apprehend criminals and keep citizens up-to-date on the progress of cases.
Pennsylvania accomplished this by utilizing business analysts to understand how each county operates and to act as liaisons in considering county requirements while also demonstrating the benefits of the system. In the end, all the counties felt as though their needs were considered, and through the training provided by the AOPC, the counties were able to understand how to utilize the system so that they could benefit to the fullest extent.
Resistance to Change
The greatest challenge faced by the Commonwealth was the wide diversity of business practices across the 67 counties. Each county ran their courts differently and utilized people in different job roles for various functions such as the collection of money. This initial resistance to change was alleviated during the requirements-gathering stage as the CPCMS implementation team helped bring everyone onto the same page, accepting a level of customization that satisfied the needs of each county.
The Commonwealth also hired business analysts to work directly with the counties to understand their business practices and how to meet their needs. The analysts acted as liaisons to help streamline the communication on issues. The Commonwealth then utilized an experienced training staff that developed customized training materials for each county. This high-touch approach helped the users at each county feel more comfortable with the new system.
Another challenge facing the CPCMS project was that the legacy data from 66 counties was formatted in 47 distinct computer systems including home-grown internal systems and off-the-shelf software utilizing various DBMS platforms. Some counties also had data in more than one system.
Although this situation created physical formatting challenges, the biggest challenge was determining what all the data meant and mapping it to the new common system. Unfortunately, the data could not just be moved – it had to be interpreted. A significant gap existed because many of legacy systems did not have the kind of control over the lookup values of the metadata compared to what CPCMS offered. The AOPC needed to work with the counties to map each data element to the new CPCMS.
Although most judicial case management systems have not employed a disaster recovery solution that can fully support the load and functionality of its applications, the AOPC has implemented such an environment.
The AOPC was unique in that it had the vision, support and direction of the Supreme Court and a funding mechanism approved by the Legislature to proceed. In addition, the Supreme Court mandated to the counties that CPCMS will be the criminal court case management system in use statewide. The project encountered "resistance to change" at the beginning of the rollout phase by several county criminal Courts of Common Pleas. It wasn’t until about half way through the rollout phase of the system that the counties began to realize the significant benefits gained from using a statewide system. Many issues were faced by the project team throughout the rollout. The project team addressed them head on and formed cross disciplinary teams to address critical path tasks. A revised communication approach was implemented resulting in a better working relationship with the county staff and end users.
CPCMS is now fully operational and has exceeded its primary goal of unifying and expediting court-case management across all 67 Pennsylvania counties and three tiers of courts. Overall, approximately 16,000 identifiable users benefit from the system. Additionally, countless other users benefit from the data managed by the system though the public web portal and data sent to various business partners working with the criminal justice system.
CPCMS has also made it possible for criminal justice agencies to apprehend fugitives faster by providing warrant information in near real-time, making Pennsylvania a safer place for its 12.5 million inhabitants.
Users of the CPCMS applaud its benefits:
“Before judicial automation, counties were unable to share critical criminal case information with other counties and state or federal authorities. As we began bringing counties onto CPCMS, we began filling a huge void in the ability to access available information such as warrants, prior convictions and bail history that is valuable to the law enforcement community and increasingly sought in the post 9/11 era.” – Zygmont A. Pines, Court Administrator of Pennsylvania.
“The ability to quickly access the most current court information throughout the state – information including prior convictions, bail history, pending charges and outstanding warrants – is invaluable to judges, law enforcement officers and other criminal justice agencies,” Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ralph J. Cappy said.
Debbie Scoff, a clerk in the Jefferson County Adult Probation Office was going through a routine review of daily payments and noticed a discrepancy on a defendant’s payment. This prompted her to review the case on CPCMS. When she did, she realized an outstanding bench warrant existed for the defendant from another Pennsylvania county. Scoff referred the information to her department chief who took the defendant into custody.
Col. Jeffrey B. Miller, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, said “Up-to-date warrant information improves the safety of law enforcement officials, particularly when making an arrest or traffic stop.”
Phil Tomassini, Executive Director of JNET, said “Implementation of the Common Pleas Case Management System in all 67 counties of the Commonwealth provides tremendous value to criminal justice and public safety officials throughout the Commonwealth. Through a completely integrated judicial system, authorized JNET users now have access to reliable and accurate court information through one system which has dramatically increased investigators’ productivity as well as improving officer safety.”
Another Sybase technology that helps AOPC is ASE Partitions, which is a key component of the Magisterial District Judge System (MDJS). MDJS is a statewide district court system that provides 59 judicial districts across 66 counties with a single, uniform approach to case processing. The system handles criminal arraignments for the Court of Common Pleas, and is the court of jurisdiction for minor misdemeanors, traffic violations, parking tickets and lesser civil cases.
Sybase ASE Partitions, an optional add-on to the Sybase ASE database platform, allows MDJS database administrators to divide tables into smaller partitions that can be separately accessed and managed. This capability is particularly useful for large, growing data sets and significantly reduces the downtime required to perform common maintenance tasks. The smaller partitions also dramatically increase query performance against the very large tables within the MDJS ASE database.
Before implementing ASE Partitions, AOPC was challenged by the considerable data needs of the District Courts and needed a way to avoid the potential performance issues of its large data set. With the range partitioning capability of ASE Partitions, AOPC divided its data set into 27 partitions of approximately the same size.
All AOPC Court Districts have access to the same data set, but users primarily access only the data in their District's partition. This methodology improves overall system performance since users access just 1/27th of the data rather than the full data set, which reduces the amount of data to be searched when queries are submitted.
The ASE Partitions option also addressed the overnight batch-update challenge faced by AOPC, which required greater throughput than the previous system could provide. The batch updates provide critical information to the courts, and with ASE Partitions technology, the MDJS database can execute the updates in parallel, which requires much shorter batch-update maintenance windows.
AOPC also partitioned the data range to segregate data by district office, which significantly reduces lock contention among district offices and enables improved online transaction throughput. With table scans now contained within the partitions, query and reporting activities also occur much faster, and the data is available in a more reliable and timely manner.