Court Technology and Mos Maiorum: “We have always done it that way.”
October 31, 2008 by Hon. John Kellam
How many times do you walk away scratching your head when you hear this explanation given for the use of a questionable procedure? Well, you may not know it, but there is an historical reference. The Roman doctrine of mos maiorum means adhering to the legacy of usages and systems and organization inherited from the past. As we move forward with court technology this is one judge’s perspective on these rapidly approaching changes.
The Indiana Supreme Court thirty-three years ago assigned me and approximately 60 other judges to develop business processes for Indiana’s new County Courts. My colleagues and I designed a plan to replace the 125-year-old Justice of Peace system that had been abolished by the 1975 General Assembly. That experience introduced me to the doctrine of mos maiorum in a very real way.
Several years later, in 1980, Governor Robert Orr appointed me to the Henry Circuit Court, replacing Judge Wesley Ratliff, Jr., who had joined the Indiana Court of Appeals. In his court, docket sheet entries were handwritten; but in my court, I dictated into a handheld recorder for transcription of all the docket sheet entries. Trial court judges and clerks continually strive to improve existing business procedures. Technology offers us the opportunity to improve court operation and provide better service to the bar, litigants and the public. The Indiana Supreme Court’s vision is to provide our trial courts and clerks with the technology necessary to better process, maintain and share court information. The Odyssey case management system (CMS) is the tool that will accomplish this goal.
Creation of this statewide case management system involves assessment of state and local procedures in light of current law. As might be expected, the development of technology for courts lags behind that developed for business, but software for court purposes is steadily progressing. One of the primary reasons the Indiana Supreme Court chose the Odyssey system, developed by Tyler Technologies, Inc., is its flexibility to accommodate many of the processes already being used by Indiana courts and clerks.
Our Indiana judicial structure has evolved over the last 155 years. Judges and clerks have modified and re-invented procedures during that time. Some procedures fulfill their original purpose and others represent a new best practice that should be considered for statewide implementation through court technology.
As we develop and implement this new technology, we must always keep in mind that the Judiciary and its case management system serve the citizens of Indiana. Any new or modified system must reflect a proper balance of concern for personal privacy and appropriate access to court information.
We face critical issues in our effort to combine many systems into one. Judicial independence is a cornerstone of government. The application of substantive law properly lies in the hands of capable judges. The benefit to our judges of a statewide case management system lies in the opportunity to more consistently invoke and apply rules and statutes.
Prior to the deployment of Odyssey, judges and clerks in each county will be asked to review and analyze local business practices and current statutes and rules. They can then better determine the functionality available through Odyssey.
During implementation, JTAC and Tyler staff will rely on judges and clerks to assist in modifying and enhancing the Odyssey system. The expertise of the Supreme Court and Judicial Conference Committees will be available to the courts during and after the implementation of the new case management system.
This is a monumental task and one that should not be left for the next generation to accomplish. Statutes and Indiana Supreme Court Rules will take precedence where there are conflicts with local practice. The goals are to attain statewide uniformity in our judicial processes and practices, to have an efficient case management system, and to provide meaningful communication of court information to litigants, attorneys, and citizens.
[Editor’s Note: Phase I of the Odyssey case management system (CMS) has been deployed in 10 pilot court sites: 9 Monroe County trial courts and the Marion County Washington Township Small Claims Court. Phase II counties have been selected and will be deployed in four regions of the state: northeast (Allen, DeKalb and Huntington), central (Marion Small Claims Courts, Hamilton, Madison and Tipton), west (Warren), and south (Clark, Floyd and Harrison).]