Data helps California Court Officials During the Pandemic

In Orange County, California, judges and other court leaders have managed emergencies with the help of their three-legged stool: people, process and technology. The coronavirus pandemic forced them to add a fourth leg – data – which they now recognize as essential to keeping the stool more stable.

That insight came from an interview conducted by NCSC researchers Diane Robinson and Allison Trochesset, who wrote about it in a recently published paper about how Orange County court administrators have used data to allow their court to operate more efficiently during the pandemic.

The paper, which includes a Q&A, charts and dashboard screenshots, reveals how these officials used data to make decisions about monitoring backlogs, scheduling in-person hearings and trials, moving traffic arraignments online and more. We encourage court officials to read it to learn about how they did that.

“Court leaders and managers in Orange County use data to make necessary daily adjustments and to identify the highest priority court cases,” Robinson said. “Dashboards make the data more accessible for everyone who needs it. One example is that they use data to identify the smallest number of potential jurors needed to be able to successfully seat a jury. This is a more efficient use of resources and will continue beyond the pandemic.”

The Orange County administrators – Darren Dang, Nicole Le, David Yamasaki and Adriaan Ayers – said the data allowed them to do five main things:

  • React with confidence and focus on the most critical matters.
  • Be agile. For example, when there was a COVID outbreak at the jail, they saw how many hearings were affected and adapted.
  • Begin planning immediately and looking ahead.
  • Stay solvent. The pandemic resulted in many initial expenses, including employee incentive pay, but using data helped them quickly realize that the spending was not sustainable. Tracking expenditures in real time and making immediate policy adjustments allowed them to save millions of dollars.
  • Communicate effectively with stakeholders, being mindful of their needs.

Prior to the pandemic, Orange County court officials said they didn’t fully realize the importance of data and the need for that fourth leg on their stool. 

“A stool with uneven legs will be unstable,” they said in the interview. “In talking with our colleagues statewide and nationwide, it is very common for the ‘data’ leg to be the shortest if one exists at all. For our court, this is also the shortest leg of the stool.”

They said they’re working to make it longer, and they urge court officials elsewhere to do the same.