'It's time': Wayne County Circuit Court to offer e-reminders in new year

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Third Circuit Court, which tries all felony cases for Wayne County as well as civil and family law cases, will be offering reminders via email and text messages starting Jan. 1, the court announced.

In 2018, the court saw 31,000 cases through to completion, with another 14,642 pending at year's end, according to the caseload report compiled by the State Court Administrative Office. That's more than the cases handled by circuit courts in Macomb and Oakland counties combined.

Lillian Diallo, vice president of Wayne County's Criminal Defense Bar Association, and principal of Legal Warriors law firm, said court reminders, which have been implemented elsewhere — including Detroit's 36th District Court — are a "great resource," especially when court dates change.

"If court is down, for bad weather or whatever, a reminder can be sent out immediately," Diallo said. "That will cut down on confusion for everybody. It would be wonderful if those reminders went out from the court. I believe it will cut down a whole lot of foolishness." 

There were 29,000 arrests for failure to appear for court dates in Michigan, according to a recent study by the State Court Administrative Office. Those come at a cost of $1,300 per incident, the study said.

The service is free, according to a statement from the court, and people can elect to receive reminders via email, text message, or both.

Two reminders will go out: seven days before the court date and at 4:30 p.m. the day before. Attorneys and parties to the court date can all sign up. 

When the court's announcement was made, Bridget McCormack, chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, overseer of all state courts in Michigan, responded to the announcement with glee on her Twitter page.

Zenell Brown, executive court administrator for Third Circuit Court, said a pilot program for the reminder service had a run this summer and fall in the family division. Though no official statistics are available on its impact in driving down "failure to appear" numbers, in November court leaders decided the program had worked well enough to expand to all divisions of the court.

The electronic reminders are a supplement, not a replacement for the official paper notices mailed out to parties before a hearing, Brown said. 

"The technology is there," Brown said, adding that existing case management software had to be tweaked to allow for the notices. "The convenience is there. It's time. We hope that a lot of people opt in."

People can sign up for court reminders at https://www.3rdcc.org/CaseReminderService.

Detroit's 36th District Court established a reminder system in February, allowing not only parties to a case, but court observers and the media to follow an ongoing matter.

Court administrator Kelli Moore Owen said the court noticed that non-local media used the reminder system to follow the court case of Pittsburgh-area elected controller Chelsa Wagner.

"A lot of out-of-state phone numbers signed up for that," Owen said. 

There are no hard numbers available to say the impact reminders have had on failure to appear numbers, said .

But, Owen said, "it's my belief it does reduce" non-appearances.