Rising to the Challenge: Deploying a Multi-Agency Integrated Case Management System—the Spokane Experience

Since 1988, the State of Washington Administrative Office of the Courts has maintained an internally developed statewide case management system for all courts of limited jurisdiction known as the Judicial Information System (JIS). Although the system has been upgraded periodically, it remains antiquated, with little flexibility for individual jurisdictions, and has no ability to interface with local prosecution, defense, or detention services information systems.

Spokane’s Criminal Justice System and the Blueprint for Reform

Spokane is a city of about 229,000 people on the eastern side of Washington very close to the Idaho border. The Spokane City Charter provides for a municipal court, with jurisdiction conferred under city ordinances and state statutes, to adjudicate criminal misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases and traffic and nontraffic civil infractions. Civil infractions include violations of the vehicle and traffic laws; photo enforcement of red lights and school zones; fire, building, and other code violations; and parking. The Spokane Municipal Court also adjudicates limited civil matters involving animal control and vehicle towing/impound.

Spokane’s municipal court case filings per capita are not atypical of similar jurisdictions. The city’s case filings break down as follows:

Traffic &

In 2007 Spokane recognized the need to move from a traditional criminal justice model to an evidence-based and data-driven paradigm. The city understood that to achieve this goal, it would need to move beyond the JIS system and employ the latest technology to automate its case management, data collection, information exchange, and reporting.

After a complete review of all the available criminal justice case management software, in 2008 Spokane selected JustWare from New Dawn Technologies. The software was implemented in phases, with the prosecutor, probation services, and the public defender going live in 2009. The Spokane Municipal Court subsequently obtained funding and went live in 2013.

Although the system was revolutionary for its time, the city’s criminal justice agencies wanted much more out of the automation effort than 2010 technology could effectively deliver. Although each of the agencies could manage its own data and documents effectively, the system provided limited and technologically cumbersome opportunities for internal and external exchange of data and documents.

A precipitating event occurred in 2012, when the Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission (SRCJC) was formed by the City of Spokane and Spokane County administrations with the goal of exploring current operations and efficiencies, identifying duplication of services, and developing a blueprint for successful reform that would better meet the needs of those processed through the criminal justice system.

The team appointed to lead the analysis consisted of a retired Spokane County Superior Court judge, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, and a well-respected criminal defense attorney. The team became the Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission and is commonly referred to as the “Commission.” 

The Commission conducted over 140 hours of interviews and agency presentations as part of the analytical process. The Commission published its results on December 31, 2013, as the Blueprint for Reform. In relevant part, the Blueprint for Reform made the following recommendations with respect to information technology applications in the county criminal justice system:

A common theme that emerged from the presentations was the need for a coordinated information system. Currently, the City of Spokane and Spokane County each rely upon separate information technology departments to manage the applications used by the courts, probation departments, detention services, pre-trial services, clerks, and others. As a result of the varied needs of each agency, multiple applications and user-interfaces have been developed and are in use. Some integration of the systems has occurred, primarily between the courts and detention services, but many stakeholders expressed the need for a single source of all information for each offender, regardless of the origin of the data.

By 2017, the City of Spokane criminal justice partners decided they needed to upgrade to a more user-friendly case management system and to more fully implement the Blueprint for Reform by a) employing a risk-needs-responsivity system and related education/programming for offender supervision and b) exchanging information with all other city criminal justice entities, local and state law enforcement information/records systems, Spokane County Detention Services, and the Washington State Judicial Information System.

After gathering requirements from each of the municipal criminal justice agencies, factoring the recommendations from the Blueprint for Reform, and assessing other state and regional systems with which the city intended to exchange data or documents, the city undertook a comprehensive review of options available to meet its operational goals.

The urgency and issues presented by this process were compounded when the city’s existing case management system vendor announced it was merging with another company and would transition elements of its existing technology into the case management system of the company with which it would be merging. This presented a very real potential that the city’s existing case management system would reach the end of its supported life much earlier than the technology acquisition team had anticipated.

Another variable surfaced during the analysis. The State of Washington decided to upgrade the current JIS system using a commercial vendor in the legal case management system marketplace.

Spokane’s Options for a Case Management System

After the city issued a formal request for proposals as required by Washington State procurement statutes, three main options for the city’s technology upgrade emerged. The viable options were partially driven by the fact that only two vendors presented a product that had specialized modules for each criminal justice agency, provided document generation and storage, included court financial management and reporting, and were designed to meet the sophisticated internal and external interface requirements of the project.

The first option was continuing to use JustWare and transitioning back to the upgraded system slated to be fielded by the Administrative Office of the Courts for Washington State. The ability of the state to complete its transition to a new software system before the JustWare product reaching its end of support was one of the major reasons this course of action was problematic, and Spokane was hesitant to pursue it.

Of note in this scenario, as part of its procurement process, Washington initially selected the JTI product for its solution, then switched to the Tyler Odyssey product in concert with Tyler Supervision (Probation) when contract negotiations with JTI were unsuccessful.

The second was to upgrade JustWare to the eSeries system being offered by JTI. A major incentive in the decision to select JTI was its ability to offer dedicated modules for the court, prosecution, public defense, and probation services. The system also promised relatively simple integration with the other internal eSeries modules and the various external systems that had been identified for interface.

The evaluation team was also cognizant that the largest court of limited jurisdiction in Washington, King County District Court, had already selected the product, and the city could take advantage of much of the foundational work it had done to customize the system’s court financial module for use in Washington State. This upgrade path also allowed the city to work with individuals on the vendor’s team with whom it already had a successful working relationship. Finally, very significant economic incentives were available via deep product discounts if the city was the first to upgrade from JustWare to eSeries and fully integrate the JTI modules.

The third option was to adopt the Tyler Technologies Odyssey product. Tyler Odyssey was already in use in the state superior court, which is a court of general jurisdiction. Tyler is also the largest player in the criminal justice case management marketplace and offered modules for the court, prosecutor, public defense, and probation, much like those offered by JTI.

To ensure the city was making the absolute best decision possible and investing scarce taxpayer funds wisely, the evaluation team spared no time, effort, or expense to assess all potential routes to meet the criminal justice system’s technology goals. The evaluation team visited jurisdictions conducting daily business operations using the competing legal case management systems, received focused demonstrations from each of the jurisdictions related to project function at the user and IT levels, and interviewed staff from each jurisdiction related to their perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of the system they were using. The team also toured the Tyler and JTI facilities and met with their management and sales teams. 

Following the evaluation process, and after much internal debate about selecting the best vendor to ensure information sharing at the regional and state level, the city selected eSeries by JTI and awarded the contract for the system upgrade. The primary drivers for the selection were familiarity with the vendor, the flexibility to customize various modules to meet the specific business needs of criminal justice partners, knowledge that King County District Court had already done significant development work on which Spokane could capitalize, and the very significant price incentives offered by JTI for being the first of its JustWare customers to upgrade to eSeries and undertake a simultaneous integrated installation of eCourt, eProsecution, eDefender, and eSupervision.

Implementation and Challenges

When the implementation of the project commenced, the court administration team and each of the criminal justice agencies were headed by individuals with years of experience working both in their fields and with each other. This combination had the distinct advantage of providing an atmosphere wherein the City of Spokane’s Court, Prosecutor, Public Defender, and Community Justice Services departments had the ability to work closely with each other without major conflict. Not without any conflict, mind you, only without major conflict. Any project involving entities with differing perspectives, needs, and wants, which are managed by individuals with strong personalities, will yield some tension or conflict. The real question is how the project team manages that tension. Fortunately, the team had worked together on other initiatives and benefited from an assigned project manager who had a wealth of business experience and was able to assist the group in working through differences and staying focused on the team’s mutual goals.

It is worth noting that during the initial phases of the project, the JTI implementation and management teams lauded how well the Spokane criminal justice agencies worked together to often resolve contentious issues without acrimony. In contrast, JTI mentioned they had been to jurisdictions where the prosecutors and public defenders could barely sit in the same room, much less resolve contentious and competing priorities as effectively as Spokane’s team did. Although collectively the criminal justice agency members formed a project group, given the use of a single software platform and the goal of interconnected systems, the IT members assigned to the project completed the “team.”

A major piece of this team-based implementation was the unique role and position the IT Legal Case Management group performed. Given the ground rules set by the participants, the IT team supporting the system would be neutral and be the only group able to access all agency data. This aspect of the project was straightforward. All of the initial research and development of confidentiality parameters and agreements were implemented when the jurisdiction went live with JustWare. There were no issues with inappropriate data dissemination during the JustWare era, so those procedures were rolled over to the eSeries project with only minor modifications.

This universal IT access to systems and, therefore, data was an unusual situation, but in the longer term it has significantly benefited all groups. This scenario allows the entire IT team to work seamlessly across all systems and to take a feature learned or developed in one system across to all the other modules. This ultimately results in placing all groups at the front of the technology curve much more efficiently and effectively than could have been achieved on an individual compartmentalized basis.

The original plan was simultaneous implementation of the case management system across all criminal justice agencies within the city in 18 months. This was a very aggressive timeline, but the vendor assured the team it could be accomplished with sufficient effort and project focus. At that time, the city had no independent project management team, compromising the original implementation plan. The lack of the project management expertise caused the initial planning effort to be disjointed, too reliant on the vendor, and based on unrealistic assumptions. One example was the assumption that the municipal court team could meet all project timeline requirements while continuing to perform all their existing day-to-day duties.

The implementation process formally commenced when JTI sent a team to process map each element of the city’s criminal justice agencies’ processes. In hindsight, this should have been a red flag for both sides. The city was not ready to start the project, as they had not gotten the house in order by conducting their own detailed process analysis or mapping. Further, the city had not conducted a full review to determine how to streamline and unify processes across all the criminal justice agencies to the extent possible. Both parties should have paused implementation to allow their respective teams to prepare and then regroup.

Within a year, it became obvious that this plan was unrealistic. The fact came into focus that as an early adopter of the upgrade from JustWare to eSeries, the vendor lacked specific knowledge and experience concerning how to orchestrate such a transition effectively. The data conversion became one of the weak points of the whole process, as the combination of poor data entry and differences in data structure created significant issues with the fidelity of converted data. Similarly, the implementation team assigned by the vendor understood the JustWare platform, but were not fully versed in all aspects of the eSeries platform. Additionally, as one of the first organizations to have interconnected modules, some components had not been exercised by the vendor in a production environment.

As the delays mounted, so did the frustrations on both sides. The city wanted the full functionality they had asked for in the system, and the vendor’s costs continued to increase each day the project was not concluded. To compensate, the city began to add more external contractors to support the project to supplement the city IT resources. Additionally, as the project matured, it became apparent that the decision to launch all four modules simultaneously was both overly ambitious and impractical from an internal staffing perspective.

The group briefly discussed abandoning the project, staying with JustWare while they waited for the state system to develop. However, this was an unrealistic plan, as Justware’s end of life had been announced, and the litigation created from the situation would have further distracted the team and delayed fielding a solution. The team reviewed the JustWare system structure and the planned eSeries implementation and considered how to mitigate the issues posed by not doing a simultaneous launch. A staggered launch was ultimately adopted as the solution.

Going live with eCourt in a full production environment would demonstrate necessary progress and provide a compromise to allow the city and JTI to continue the project. Completing one system would also allow the team to apply the lessons learned from the first implementation to the other three implementations necessary to complete the combined project.

As luck would have it, the timing of the decision to move forward with a full court press on eCourt occurred just before the start of the pandemic. This unforeseen development forced a complete change in how the entire implementation process worked. Travel restrictions and vendor-team absences compelled the city team to become the primary driver of the project, both from a requirements and a configuration standpoint. The city IT team began to learn the needed skills to configure pieces of the system, skills that now allow for the city to be autonomous from JTI support, except for core system issues.

Finally, when system requirements were originally developed for the eSupervision module, the court was operating under a traditional probation model, although planning was in progress to transition to the risk-needs-responsivity (RNR) supervision model. This meant the existing eSupervision module design was not robust enough to fully support the RNR processes and procedures. It became necessary to commission the vendor to make significant modifications in the eSupervision module to accommodate the RNR supervision model to be able to function effectively in concert with therapeutic (problem-solving) courts and to support behavior modification and educational programming offerings for the offender population.

As previously mentioned, one of the big drivers of this selection of eSeries was the overall cost. The original quote for implementing an upgrade across all four internal agencies, integrating data interfaces across platforms used by other regional criminal justice agencies, and interfacing with the electronic data repository managed by the Administrative Office of the Courts totaled $290,000. This sum included not only all the software licensing, work of the vendor’s implementation team, and Internet portals for the transaction of e-commerce-based business, but also all associated travel and incidentals. 

As the court transitioned to the RNR supervision model, it became apparent the basic eSupervision model offered by the vendor would not meet the court’s needs. The court negotiated with the vendor and obtained a fundamental rewrite of the eSupervision module to accommodate RNR, education programming, and a more person-based versus case-based case management. The project total was $85,000, revising the total projected cost to $375,000.

Interestingly, although the significant price incentives offered by the vendor for being the first customer to transition from JustWare to eSeries were exceptional and a major driver in the decision to select eSeries, it may have contributed to various performance deficits displayed by the vendor in what appeared to be an attempt to control costs once they recognized performing the work they had agreed to at the cost quoted was economically problematic for them.

As with all projects in local government, initial funding was a major hurdle to overcome. Because the original project funding had to be identified in 2017, pandemic- and stimulus-related funding streams had yet to be applied. The court had been using electronic case management since 2009, so it already had a demonstrated track record of improving efficiency on which to build.

Ultimately, both court administration and the city council were persuaded to build the cost of the upgrade into the budget over multiple years and to weave it into the IT division’s capital software upgrade program. Essentially, with no external grant or other funding sources, all project expenses came out of the city’s general fund. The IT software capital program absorbed much of the upfront cost, and the increase in annual budgets for all impacted agencies provides the funding for the ongoing operational expenses of the software across the system.

When Spokane Municipal Court first initiated electronic case management in 2013, the court reduced its clerical staff by a total of thirteen full-time employees post-implementation. It also discontinued all expenses associated with building and maintaining paper files and sold its rolling-module file system. These personnel and overhead savings mitigated the cost of the initial system.

With the system upgrade designed to improve overall performance and expand the exchange of data across all systems, the court again expected to achieve some incremental labor savings. Agency staff is no longer required to enter the same data across four systems or to manage and scan multiple sets of documents into electronic files each day, resulting in substantial savings. The system upgrade was never anticipated to generate the sorts of personnel reductions made following the original transition from a paper-based court to electronic case management. The court projected that once the implementation sequence was complete across all agencies, corresponding clerical labor time savings would provide for increased work capacity within the existing staffing model. The court shares an average of around 750 documents with the other agencies weekly and that time alone is likely the equivalent to one FTE across the three receiving agencies.

As a final element of the implementation, the team is just now completing a major effort with respect to the ability to mine and report on data points collected by each of the four integrated agencies.

With respect to court performance, the Spokane Municipal Court elected to build in the key trial court performance measurements promulgated by the National Center for State Courts in CourTools. The court currently has the clearance rate, time to disposition, age of pending caseload, and trial date certainty measures in place. The next phase will add the cost per case, access and fairness, effective use of jurors, and court employee satisfaction elements to the analysis.

In addition to the CourTools performance analysis for standard court processes, the court is also developing detailed outcomes, metrics, and data points related to performance of therapeutic/problem-solving courts.

The court has also built into the system robust analyses of pre- and post-sentence supervision programs. Performance metrics analyze the pretrial services unit, electronic monitoring unit, and impact of the switch from the standard quasi law-enforcement supervision model to the risk-needs-responsivity-supervision model. 

Lessons Learned

As the court nears the end of the intense go-live phase following a five-year process, points of success and failure are coming into much better focus. This confirms the adage that “hindsight is always 20/20,” but the ability to look at any project in retrospect allows the participants to learn from the experience and apply that knowledge to future projects. The challenge of this sort of analysis is compelling the participants to overcome basic human nature and to take a truly introspective look at their own performance and internalize, rather than externalize, their own mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. With this preface, participants should be “adults” and discuss the “lessons learned” first. 

Independent project management support from the inception of the project would have been extremely beneficial on many levels. It would have assisted all agencies with a) gathering requirements, b) mapping any analyses of processes as they existed pre-project, c) recognizing staff capacity limitations for project work, d) mitigating the agency biases each of the participants brought to the table, e) moderating unrealistic expectations regarding system performance and features, f) analyzing the practicality of a simultaneous launch across four agencies, and g) moving the overzealous 18-month implementation timeline to the top of the “reconsideration pile” very quickly.

Enhancing the internal IT support team before starting implementation would have also mitigated project delays and allowed the court to rely on the vendor’s team far less, thereby decreasing the travel and support issues posed by the pandemic.

Setting up the regional IT-based user group for eSeries customers much earlier would have also been very beneficial. It would have permitted all JTI customers to access the knowledge base of other customers, learn from each other’s mistakes, and share system configuration modifications to help customize the system for Washington State courts. Spokane worked well with the other implementing courts, but it was at the administrative level, rather than the technical level. Having a more formalized user group both at the administrative and technical levels would have provided much better information sharing and prevented the jurisdictions from repeatedly developing critical solutions in a vacuum.

Finally, building in a more rigorous training plan for both the judicial officers and staff would have reduced grief during the go-live process immensely. Although the court conducted formal training sessions, trying to do so in the middle of the daily court workflow was very challenging and led to a good deal of frustration. Similarly, as various processes continued to develop and be modified during go-live, written process and system documentation failed to keep up with the rapidly changing environment. This resulted in changes being poorly documented at points, being published in hastily composed emails, and sometimes being orally provided to some of the staff and not others.

This breakdown in process and communication caused a good deal of angst among the employee user group and judicial officers. As a result, the court developed a formalized software and process change notification system, which simultaneously shares critical change information across all user groups and participating agencies. The results of the formalized change notification system produced positive results almost immediately and continues to eliminate much of the previous confusion and angst.

On the success side of the ledger, starting with a multiple-agency team that could establish project ground rules made a huge difference in the outcomes. Working together on a common goal in an otherwise adversarial system paid dividends. It reduced agency competition for initially scarce internal IT resources, allowed commonalities to be developed and propagated across agency modules in the platform, and even reduced some of the negativity between the agencies in matters unrelated to implementation of our case management system.

Another element of a truly collaborative team was the ability to address procedural and technical issues as they arose using a focused solution-oriented approach. Rather than continually lamenting the severity of a given problem and ringing their collective hands, the team was able to regroup, rethink the approach, and adapt to mitigate the issues impacting a successful implementation. This approach avoided near project collapse on at least one occasion and ultimately led to a successful product implementation under sometimes difficult circumstances.

The integration of an internal IT team co-managed by a consortium of users via a memorandum of understanding with the city’s IT administration also contributed to the court’s success. It assisted in developing cohesive and unified information technology support for the process and made IT a true member of the user team. This improved the user group’s perception of its IT support and made the user group more responsive to accepting input and direction from the IT members of the team. It also produced better cohesiveness within the IT support team itself and created an atmosphere of esprit de corps. This led to better performance from the IT unit and compelled other talented people from the city’s IT pool to join the eSeries support team. It was truly a win for everyone involved.

Most importantly, the court successfully implemented a world-class case management system, with interfaces that will ultimately meet all the goals defined in the original project charter, as well as those set forth in the Blueprint for Reform document. Project success resulted in improved information exchange, significant reductions in repetitive work from agency staff allowing increased capacity system-wide, and the ability to collect data and effectively analyze that data to permit far superior evidence-based decision-making than the criminal justice system had ever had before. Good decision-making leads to good policy formation and improvements in performance across the justice system for everyone involved, including the taxpayers who ultimately fund the effort.

Looking forward, the court’s path to success thus far has provided a template for all future major projects within the criminal justice system. Applying the lessons learned during this lengthy and complex project will allow the court to effectively approach all future criminal justice initiatives and will permit the associated projects to come to fruition much more efficiently and with significantly less frustration and confusion among the participants. As people are the most important asset, easing the burden of major change and innovation on them reduces the risk of burnout and institutional resistance to the next project that may come down the line.

The team at the City of Spokane extends a warm invitation to any jurisdiction considering an integrated criminal justice case management system to reach out with any questions you may have. The team welcomes the opportunity to assist other jurisdictions in making a successful technology transition from paper to electronic case management and is pleased to offer those jurisdictions the opportunity for virtual or in-person demonstrations of the system and its world-class functionality.


Howard Delaney is the City of Spokane Municipal Court Administrator, and Matthew Moore is the City of Spokane IT Legal Case Management Supervisor