During a research project at court assistance centers, we’d noticed that people sometimes ended up at the wrong courthouse, or at the right one but outside of opening hours for the service they needed. This was a frustrating waste of time and effort, and often resulted in their not being able to get help, or finish their task, that day. The statewide court system website offered the ability to find the nearest county court by zip code, but didn’t offer details on service hours or the types of cases handled in different locations.
Sometimes it pays to just put the work in
There are 58 superior courts in California, but some 254 courthouses among them. We spent several weeks compiling locations and hours for buildings, clerks, and assistance centers for all of them, together with what types of actions can be filed there. We returned all of these to the courts for approval and correction. Based on this dataset, we built a simple web application (try Zip code 95201) that displays detailed information on local court activities and hours.
We developed business processes to keep the dataset updated and trained the internal website team on data maintenance. The app began as an illustrative prototype, but we were hugely honored when the internal team decided to bring it into the production environment and name it the 2.0 version of their existing function.
Later, we shared the dataset and data structure with Pew and others working on similar information at a national level.