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Utah’s court system seeks a tech upgrade

Posted at 3:31 PM, Jan 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-27 17:31:28-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant called on lawmakers to spend more than a million dollars to upgrade the judiciary’s tech.

In his annual State of the Judiciary address to the legislature on Monday, Chief Justice Durrant said the court system is being overwhelmed with needs to upgrade technology, repair courts and keep staff.

“We’ve almost doubled the number of applications we use to serve the public. Technology has greatly assisted us in achieving that responsibility. But our IT department is overwhelmed,” he said. “I’m told there’s up to a 10-year backlog. So any funds you can allocate in that respect would be much appreciated.”

Speaking off the cuff and without a script, the Chief Justice spoke about successes the court system has seen with drug court in offering treatment instead of incarceration. He said they hope to achieve similar with people facing mental health crisis.

Chief Justice Durrant also said the state courts were experimenting with new ways to reach people, including technology. The courts have implemented an “online dispute resolution” system, where people can log on and settle small claims issues. He jokingly referred to it as “pajama court.”

The court system is still trying to find new ways to provide legal services to people. You have a constitutional right to an attorney, but many people are being priced out of it. So the Utah State Courts have implemented new things like licensed legal practitioners (sort of like a nurse practitioner for lawyers, he told the House and Senate) and other ways to provide counsel.

Seemingly referencing a proposed constitutional amendment that would change how judges get on the bench, Chief Justice Durrant signaled his satisfaction with the current process of the governor nominating qualified attorneys, who are confirmed by the Senate and the public votes to retain them.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, has sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 8. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow for non-partisan elections of judges.