Login | May 30, 2020

Akron Municipal Court rolls out new website

Legal News Reporter

Published: April 10, 2019

The Akron Municipal Court recently unveiled its new website marking a “significant improvement over the old site,” according to Administrative Judge Jon A. Oldham. “It’s exciting.”

The new site has a new web address: https://www.akronmunicipalcourt.org/. It is hosted offsite, said Court Administrator Montrella Jackson, which makes it separate from the city’s system and therefore can be accessed even if there is trouble with the city’s system as happened in a recent hacking incident.

The development of the new site has been years in the making. It started in 2017 with RFPs, said Lawrence Lee, who heads up IT for the court. The process was “slow,” he said, “which is what you get with city purchasing.”

Jackson said that three companies responded to the original RFP. The court chose Akron marketing agency WhiteSpace Creative (https://www.whitespace-creative.com/). The final cost was $24,100, far less than the estimated $100,000 the court’s old website cost to build in 2002.

It took about a year to build the new site, said Jackson, including some changes that were made on the fly to make the site more user-friendly.

But the functionality of the new site was worth the wait, said Judge Oldham.

“Just because our building is falling apart doesn’t mean that we can’t have a state-of-the-art website,” he said. “It is an improvement that we can make now” while the court waits for more complex infrastructure changes to come on line. “The website is a huge step forward to help provide justice to users.”

One of the primary and most basic changes was just getting the site up to modern standards, said Lee.

Lee, who has been in his position for over 30 years, was responsible for maintaining the old site.

“It kind of worked okay,” he said. “I was always trying to tighten up the code over the years, but there have been so many changes in the modern website era” that the old site just became obsolete.

Because of that, the RFP asked for a site design that could be updated more easily and by more people, said Lee, who noted that the individual judges and courtrooms have their own individual computers, forms and needs.

“Our employees now can change the content of their own pages. We are currently ramping up that capability,” said Lee.

Another capability that takes the website into modern times is its language capability, said Judge Oldham.

“The site can be accessed in 100 languages,” he said, noting that the various Akron neighborhoods are now home to a multitude of foreign-born inhabitants who do not speak English, or who at least do not speak it well enough to navigate something as complex as a court website.

In modern times, it seems obvious that access to justice now equates to access to court website said Judge Oldham adding that “the Ohio Supreme Court lists improving access to justice as a goal, and my goal is to use this website as a way to do this.”

“We serve a very diverse community,” said Judge Oldham.

The site’s language capabilities “provide a comfort level for non-English speakers.”

This is particularly important for court notices because there are many times when a defendant who does not speak English will fail to show at a hearing for only that reason Judge Oldham explained.

“It is hard for me as a judge to know what to do when a non-English speaker does not show up for court” he said.

The new site can “verify the date, time and courtroom” in virtually any language—“simple things that most people take for granted. I think it will help people show up when they are supposed to.”

Overall, the site has been modernized from the code to the look and feel, said Lee, although there are several things that could be that aren’t.

For instance, unlike federal court sites and many common pleas and appeals court sites, the Akron Muni site will not accommodate e-filing. But, he said, “the functionality is better arranged. It is the same information, but arranged in a way that will let us go forward.”

And in terms of the look and feel, Lee said he thinks that it would be a good thing if every court site for every court had the same basic presentation. They do not, although the Akron court site is a part of the city of Akron system, and there is a similar look to the city’s website.

Jackson said that there are still some more adjustments and improvements to make with the site’s look and feel, but it is up and ready to serve the public.