Grant report period March 1, 2006 – May 31, 2006



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McLennan County Discretionary Grant 212-05-D11

Grant report period March 1, 2006 – May 31, 2006

Final Report from the McLennan County 54th District Court


The video teleconference system has met all of our expectations. The attorneys and the Sheriff’s Office have been very pleased with the implementation of this equipment. It has allowed quicker and easier access to the defendants. The defense attorneys enjoy the easy access at the courthouse that allows them to talk to their clients. Attorneys have stated that by using this system, they can see 2 – 3 defendants in the time that it would take them to see one defendant at the McLennan County jail. The defense attorneys have expressed their total approval of the video teleconference system. We have not received any negative comments from any of the defense attorneys.
The Sheriff’s Office has been extremely helpful in the use of the video teleconference equipment. Without their cooperation, this system would not have been as successful. The sergeants that we contact daily for scheduling purposes work very hard to respond to our requests. We do not have any problems with scheduling the video teleconferences; all inmates are lined up and waiting for their scheduled conference. We have received high praise from Chief Deputy Randy Plemons for the implementation of this system.

The number of applications processed for court appointed attorneys and the number of attorney notifications processed has steadily increased throughout the grant period. This is due to the increased use of the email system by the Juvenile Court and the 54th District Court to notify court appointed attorneys of all court settings. The Information Technology department continued to work with us through the grant period in our requests to notify court appointed attorneys by email. We are now able to send notices to these attorneys of reset dates, orders appointing attorneys, and notification of arraignments on new indictments. A new requisition was added to the email notification system for the 54th District Court in March 2006. When an order appointing attorney is prepared through this system, a requisition for the initial visit on the defendant is automatically prepared and emailed to the attorney at the same time. Since this requisition is generated at the same time as the order appointing the attorney, it has all of the required information about the defendant pre-printed in the form.


McLennan County achieved the goals set out in our Discretionary Grant application. We recognized that our manner of appointing attorneys needed to be addressed. It was time consuming for the court administrators, and there was a delay in notifying the court appointed attorneys. This delay in notification also delayed the initial visit by the attorney.
Another issue that we addressed was the difficulty the attorneys faced at the McLennan County jail when visiting the defendant. The McLennan County jail is not located near the courthouse or near any attorney’s office. When attorneys go to the jail to visit defendants, the attorneys must drive to each wing of the jail to see their clients. At each wing, the attorney must contact the jailer to request their client be brought to the visitation area.
The use of the video teleconference at the courthouse allows the attorneys much quicker and easier access to their indigent clients. When the attorney receives the Order of Appointment by email, the attorney contacts the court administrator to schedule the initial visit. Each visit an attorney schedules with an inmate are set in increments of 15 minutes. The court administrator calls the Sergeant on duty at the McLennan County jail to schedule the visits. The attorney comes to the court administrator’s office to check in for the visit. The court administrator unlocks the soundproof room near her office for the attorney’s visit. When the attorney is finished, the attorney returns to the administrator’s office to verify that the visit is complete.
Some deviations from the grant application occurred during the implementation process. The 54th District Court and the 19th District Court were the courts originally involved in the grant. These two courts hear felony and juvenile cases. However, the 19th District Court Judge, Ralph Strother, and the 74th District Court Judge, Alan Mayfield, made a few changes in their courts’ dockets. Judge Strother gave all juvenile cases to Judge Mayfield. This change in courts and judges to hear juvenile cases required McLennan County to request an extension to our grant. The 74th District Court did not change any portions of the grant. All projects continued as planned.
Some of the programming by the IT department did not work out totally as planned. The court administrator manually entered into the computer the date the initial visit was made by video teleconference. The actual time of the video teleconference was not entered. The IT department did not have the capability to program the automatic entry of date and time of the visit. After this information was manually entered into the computer system, a report prints at the beginning of each month with the required totals. The IT department did program this report to automatically print in the court administrator’s office. Another programming addition by IT included the addition of an “email file mark” on the Order Appointing Attorney. This “email file mark” shows the date and time that the attorney received the order by email.
Setting up guidelines for the use of the video teleconference is an important starting point. Without these guidelines to follow, the system cannot work. The rules set up by McLennan County by the District Courts and the Sheriff’s Office are not difficult and are not lengthy. These rules made it easier for the administrators, jailers, and attorneys to understand the expectations required of all parties involved.
One of the most important rules established involved the time allowed for a visit. Setting 15 minutes as the limit for each video teleconference allowed more indigent defendants access to their court appointed attorneys. An attorney can complete the required initial visit in this period. Only a few of our attorneys complained about this short period. After they used the video teleconference for their initial visit, the attorneys discovered that this 15-minute period allowed them to adequate time for the initial interview. The court administrators must be diligent in enforcing the time limit.
Ensuring the confidentiality of the video teleconference is another important aspect to address. Both the 54th District Court and the 74th District Court have their video teleconference equipment in private rooms in the courthouse. The 54th District Court remodeled a small office and installed soundproofing. The 74th District Court used a conference room that needed no changes. These rooms remain locked daily. Only the court administrator can unlock the rooms. Once the attorney is in the room, the administrator dials the appropriate jail location to verify the start of the visit. The administrator leaves the room and locks the door. When a juvenile visit is scheduled, the Juvenile Court Administrator contacts the 54th District Court Administrator to unlock the room and dial up the juvenile detention center. Upon completion of the connection to the juvenile detention center, the court administrator leaves the room and locks the door.
An occasional problem arises at the jail during a video teleconference. Because the jailer must keep visual contact of the inmate at all times, some jailers do not close the door to the conference room. This occurred quite frequently in the beginning stages. The door to the conference room does have a window. When the attorneys notice the door open, they instruct the jailer to close the door. The jailers close the door and maintain their visual contact through the window. This rarely happens, but the attorneys watch for this occasional problem. When this does occur, the court administrator notifies the Sergeant on duty at the jail. The Sergeant addresses the issue with his staff. The Sheriff’s Department supports the use of video teleconference and wants to system to work as efficiently as possible.
McLennan County’s success with our Discretionary Grant is due to the following:

  1. Discussing the planning stages with the various departments

  2. Having the support and cooperation of the departments involved

  3. Keeping an open mind and being flexible in the beginning stages of implementation of the projects

  4. Implementing guidelines for the use of the video teleconference equipment in the 54th District Court, 74th District Court, and the McLennan County Jail

  5. Making the video teleconference equipment readily available to attorneys by keeping visits on schedule

  6. Allowing the use of the video teleconference equipment from 8:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. and 12:00 to 3:45 daily; shutting down only for feeding times at the jail

  7. Establishing a “go to person” in each department involved when problems and/or questions arise

  8. Creating a group of attorneys for planning and testing of the grant projects

  9. Having one person be in charge of coordinating the operation of the grant

  10. Keeping all departments advised of the progress of the grant

  11. Advising the department heads when problems arise

  12. Watching for any delays with equipment and/or software and following through with the department head and county judge to ensure the project is completed timely

  13. Making sure the grant projects are purchased, installed, configured, etc. timely

  14. Training all personnel on the use of the equipment and software

  15. Using the equipment and/or software in the daily operation of the court

  16. Responding to attorneys when they have suggestions or complaints about the grant projects

This Discretionary Grant allowed the 54th District Court to improve indigent defense by quicker notification to the attorney of the court appointment by email and by quicker access to the defendants in jail by the use of the video teleconference equipment. We accomplished our goal with this grant. We look forward to the continuation of the projects started by the grant. Furthermore, we look forward to continuing to find additional means to improve felony indigent defense in McLennan County.


The continued support from the criminal defense attorneys throughout this project contributed to its success. Our local attorneys expressed their approval of the improvements made by McLennan County. The following letters from criminal defense attorneys in McLennan County reflect the overall opinion of the changes made to the delivery of indigent defense for felons:
Letter #1:
Dear Mrs. Edwards:

 

I have been practicing law in the 54th District Court for the last twenty years.  I have seen a lot of changes over the years, but the latest technological advances made by the 54th have been the most impressive.  As you know, our jail is located several miles from town, and even once a lawyer arrives, it usually takes a long time to have a "jail visit" with our clients.  The latest teleconference equipment provided by your court has allowed myself and other defense attorneys to quickly and efficiently visit "face-to-face" with our clients.  We are able to meet more often with our clients and save an enormous amount of time by using the equipment. 



 

My husband practices law with me and has also reaped the benefits of the new teleconference system.  I can also vouch for the other defense attorneys in McLennan County.  This past year I served as president of our organization, and the attorneys reported at our monthly meetings how beneficial the new equipment has been.  

 

Further, the new email system provided by your court has also been extremely successful.  We now receive court notices, appointments for new clients, and other valuable information just by checking our email.  We can receive this information and update our files and calendars without even leaving our desks. 



 

Consequently, all of these new advances have resulted in better representation of our clients and a more efficient running of the court's docket.  Thank you for all of your hard work in helping to implement these improvements.

 

Susan Kelly Johnston



Johnston & Johnston

510 N. Valley Mills Dr., Ste. 406

Waco, TX  76710

254-751-1818      



Letter # 2

Cathy Edwards

Assistant Court Administrator

54th Judicial District Court

McLennan County, Texas

 

     Re: Improvements in the system



Cathy:

 

I am writing in response to your request for input regarding two of the improvements that have been instituted by the 54th Judicial District Court. Two of these improvements are the video system connecting the Courthouse to the McLennan County Jail and the use of e-mail to provide notice.



 

I have used the video connection several times over the past few weeks, and find it a real time saver. Thus far, we have had no difficulty in scheduling a time for me to meet with new Court appointed indigent clients and the system has been faultless. The client does not seem to resent the system, and probably accepts it as normal. (I initially believed that the clients would resent not getting a personal visit. That's not been my perception to date.) The process eliminates my need for the approximately 1/2 hour trip to and from the jail, and any wait at the jail. I would estimate that's at least 3/4 hour per client. Additionally, because it's so convenient, I have no problem in scheduling the visit very quickly after receiving the appointment. It is likely that results in days being saved in representing the client. Less days in jail represent a significant savings in the expense of housing inmates.

 

The e-mail notice system is also a great improvement over the past systems. As you are aware, many of us are trying to move to the paperless office. With the new system, we can easily incorporate the Court's notice into our files without having to download any paper. Because it's far quicker than fax, we get the notice more quickly and can move accordingly. The old system used snail mail to move settings, and that system was costlier (postage, envelopes, and the clerk time involved in sending and receiving) and less efficient. It also sometimes meant postal delays that resulted in lack of timely notice, and, in a few cases, the forfeiture of bonds and the resulting trauma and expense of arrest and incarceration.



 

Please let me know if you need anything else. As you can tell, I am quite pleased with the improvements.

 

Russ Hunt, Sr.



rhuntatty@aol.com

254/753-3738

FAX  254/753-8118

 


Letter # 3
Cathy:
Although beginning as a skeptic, I am now a true believer in the video program. In the past, I made my initial contact with my clients by telephone. This was useful, but left my client's wanting some sort of more personal contact. However, the video seems to allow them the personal contact, and allows me not to spend hours per month getting into and out of the jail. In addition, I have heard others comment how they can quickly forward plea offers, and settle matters that would have been delayed for several days.
All in all, it has provided a great mechanism to meet our clients initially, and to keep them provided with information on their respective cases. I would give great credit to you and Judge George Allen for assisting in securing this equipment for the local defense bar.
Stan Schwieger

Attorney at Law

Waco, TX

Former McLennan County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association President

2002-05
Letter # 4
Dear Cathy:

 

I would like to take the opportunity to commend you and Penny regarding the new video system. Having said system has made all the difference in the world. This system has allowed the criminal defense bar to cut down on the time it normally takes to see a client and to relay offers. With regard to Spanish speaking clients, the fact that my Spanish speaking clients can see who they are dealing with has helped me to establish a connection with them that can’t be made over the telephone on initial contact. Also, it helps me to be able to evaluate my client based on his or her body language and their reactions to the issues we have to discuss. It would be extremely difficult to go back to the way things were prior to the video system. Once again, thanks to both you and Penny for all your hard work!



 

Sincerely,

 

VILLARRIAL LAW FIRM



  Gerald R. Villarrial

3640 West Waco Drive

Waco, Texas 76710

254-752-3090

254-755-6272 Fax

Letter #5
Cathy Edwards

Court Administrator

54th District Court
Dear Cathy,
The value of using the video teleconference equipment to communicate with clients incarcerated in the McLennan County jail is immeasurable. Typically, I am able to communicate face to face via video within a few hours of being appointed.  A "jail visit" in person can easily consume two hours of time.  A video visit, however, can be accomplished in a quarter of the time with no detrimental effect to the client or the content of communication.  I personally have reduced the number of trips I take to the jail by eighty percent.
I hope the program continues and the capacity is expanded.  I would be glad to talk to anyone who has specific questions about the program and its use.

Phil Frederick

Frederick & Coley

600 Columbus Avenue

Waco, Texas 76701

(254) 757-2082

Dear Cathy:
    The purpose of this e-mail is to convey to you and to others that may be interested the value of the new indigent defendant video conference procedure. As you are aware, before this procedure was implemented each attorney was required to go through the somewhat convoluted procedure of visiting with their client out at the jail. This was a cumbersome process that often took a great deal of time. Now with the help of the video conference room we can visit with our client very quickly after appointment on their case and introduce ourselves to them and find out some background information very early on in the case. I feel that each client appreciates being seen so quickly. The video conference also allows us to update the client faster on new developments in each of their cases and pass along plea offers in a much more efficient manner. Although face to face contact with a client in person is still very valuable and important, the video conference allows us to have more contact with clients in a way that benefits the client, the attorney and the court.

    I have found that as a result of using the video conference room I can offer information to my clients about their cases faster and more efficiently. It also appears that the video conference procedure is easier for jail personnel because they only have to worry about moving the defendant in the jail as opposed to also having to worry about letting the attorneys in and out of the various gates and doors at the jail.

    If I can offer any other information, please let me know.

                                

Sincerely,
Rob Swanton,

Attorney at Law


The following pages contain screen shots of the various programs used by the court administrators.


This is a screen shot of the ATTORNEY NAME MAINTENANCE PROGRAM. Once an court appointed attorney’s name, bar number, and email address are entered here, then all notices for that attorney will be automatically emailed by the court administrator.

Attorney Name Maintenance


State Bar Number [00000000]
Attorney Name [Lastname, Firstname]

Firm Name: [Firm Name]


House NSEW Street City St Zip + 4
Adrs: [12345] [E] [My Street] [My town] [TX] [76701] [0000]
Telephone: Voice: [2547777777]

Fax: [2548888888]

Email:

[Email address entered here]



This is a screen shot of the HCAS SCREEN used to reset a case. Information that is in bold type is the information that the court administrator enters. The court administrator enters “E” at the “print reset option” to automatically send the notice by email to the court appointed attorney. A copy is also sent to the administrator for the file.

Docket Code [D] Year Filed [2006] Case Number [ 9999] Court Code [C]


Style of Case DEFENDANT’S LAST NAME, FIRST NAME Filed On 01/01/2006 Case Status P
Hearing Date: [06302006] Time: [0830]
Court Room: [54TH] Judge: [ALLEN]
Hearing Type: [TR] Trial Jury Trial? [N] Y/N
Set By: [administrator’s initials] On: [07012006] Reset Cnt: [ ]

Remarks: [ ] Pre-Trial Date [08212006]


Duration: [ ] Hr/Min/Day/Unknown [U]
Reset for: Date [08312006] Time [0900] Print Reset [E] E/Y/N (If “E” is entered, then email notice is automatically sent to the attorney with a copy to the administrator.)
Reason: any information about the case can be entered in this area but will not be printed on notice to attorney

Attorney [Bar # will already be shown here] Retain/Appoint [A] Name: [Attorney’s name will already be shown here]


ADA: Asst. DA name here
Offense: Offense listed here Booking No: 000000 CID: 000000
Bondsman: bondsman name here or JAIL: location in jail Degree: degree of offense
This is a screen shot of the HEAR SCREEN used to set a case for the first court setting. Information that is in bold type is the information the court administrator enters. The court administrator enters “E” at the “print reset option” to automatically send the notice by email to the court appointed attorney. A copy is also sent to the administrator for the file.

Docket Code [D] Year Filed [2006] Case Number [ 9999] Court Code [C]


Style of Case DEFENDANT’S LAST NAME, FIRST NAME Filed On 01/01/2006 Case Status P
Hearing Date: [07212006] Time: [0830]
Court Room: [54TH] Judge: [ALLEN]
Hearing Type: [RV] REVOCATN Jury Trial? [N] Y/N
Set By: [administrator’s initials] On: [07012006] Reset Cnt: [ ]

Remarks: [ ] Pre-Trial Date [if the case is set for JT (jury trial, then a pre-trial date is entered here]


Duration: [ ] Hr/Min/Day/Unknown [U]
Reset for: Date [ ] Time [ ] Print Reset [E] E/Y/N (If “E” is entered, then email notice is automatically sent to the attorney with a copy to the administrator.)
Reason: any information about the case can be entered in this area but will not be printed on notice to attorney
Attorney [Bar # entered here] Retain/Appoint [A] Name: [attorney’s name automatically entered here after Bar # is entered]

ADA: Asst. DA name here


Offense: Offense listed here Booking No: 000000 CID: 000000
Bondsman: bondsman name here or JAIL: location in jail Degree: degree of offense

This is a screen shot of the monthly report prepared by the IT department to document initial visits at the jail and by video teleconference. This report also documents the number of email notices sent to court appointed attorneys.


DATE: Report prints on the first day of the month 54TH DISTRICT COURT SYSTEM

TIME: time report printed UNFILED INDIGENT INITIAL VISIT REPORT

Monthly date range printed here
Cause No. Name CID Booked Arrest# Offense Attorney OAC ordered Visitation
2006-9999-C defendant 0000 1/1/06 0000 UUMV Attorney’s name date appointed date of initial visit at jail or date of video conference

The following information prints at the end of the report:


TOTAL IV < 24 =

(initial visits done at the jail less than 24 hours from receipt of appointment)


TOTAL VC < 24 =

(initial visits done by video teleconference less than 24 hours from receipt of appointment)


TOTAL IV > 24 =

(initial visits done at the jail more than 24 hours from receipt of appointment)


TOTAL VC > 24 =

(initial visits done by video teleconference more than 24 hours from receipt of appointment)


TOTAL VISITS =

(total initial visits at jail & by video less than 24 hours from receipt of appointment

and more than 24 hours from receipt of appointment)
PENDING IV’S =

(total initial visits not made and/or not documented)

TOTAL UNFL’S =

(total # of Orders Appointing Attorneys prepared)


This is a screen shot of LIST OF CASES FOR: Attorney’s name. Court appointed attorneys use this option set up by the IT Department to print a list of all of their court appointed cases. The attorneys have a user code and password to use on the laptop in the court administrators’ office. The IT department wrote a program that allows the court appointed attorney to request a list of his/her cases. The attorney selects the date range according to the date the court ordered the appointment. The court appointed attorneys select any date range they need from weeks to months

DATE: Date printed MCLENNAN COUNTY 54TH DISTRICT COURT

TIME: Time printed CASES FOR: Attorney’s name FROM: date of court appointment

Attorney chooses the date range.

CID BOOKING # DEFENDANT HEARING INFO BOOK IN NAME
OFFENSE CASE # WARRANT # RELEASE AUTHORITY TIME BOOK OUT
00000 00000 Defendant 05/31/06 9:00 TR 01/01/2006 Defendant’s Alias prints here

Poss CS: Cocaine 06-000 2006-9999-C Bonded by Bondsman’s name 02/01/2006


This list prints two (2) lines of information for each defendant. The information on the first line in bold type matches the information on the first line that is not in bold type. The information on the second line in bold italics matches the information on the second line that is in italics. This list can be ordered by a court appointed attorney for any felony case that he/she has received an appointment on since January 1, 2002.

This is a copy of the new Initial Visit Requisition automatically emailed with the Order Appointing Attorney:

Attorney Requisition For Initial Visit


54th District Court

Of

McLennan County



Cause Number 2006-1111-C
CID# (identifying number assigned by McLennan County Sheriff’s Office will be printed in this space)
Booking # (identifying number assigned by McLennan County Sheriff’s Office will be printed in this space)


Defendant’s name: Defendant’s full name as booked will be printed in this space

AKA: Defendant’ Alias will be printed in this space

Felony case level: The degree of the offense will be filled in the appropriate place
_______1ST Degree _______2ND Degree _______3RD Degree _______ State Jail _______Capital


Attorney (Full Name—printed)

Attorney’s name will be printed here


Attorney Address (Include Law Firm Name if Applicable)

Attorney’s address will be printed here

Telephone



Attorney’s phone # will be printed here

State Bar Number

Attorney’s Bar Number will be printed here



Initial Visit Certification
(The date of the initial visit and the site of the initial visit are required for payment.)
I hereby certify that I made an initial visit with the defendant on _________________________________ at the MCLENNAN COUNTY JAIL or AT MY OFFICE or BY VIDEO TELECONFERENCE in compliance with the McLennan County Indigent Defense Appointment requirements.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Signature Date Submitted by Attorney





Fee For Initial Visit
$100.00

Attorney Certification: I, the undersigned attorney, certify that the above information is true and correct and in accordance with the laws of the State of Texas. The compensation and expenses claimed were reasonable and necessary to provide effective assistance of counsel.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Signature Date Submitted by Attorney


SIGNATURE OF PRESIDING JUDGE and DATE



Total Fees and Expenses Approved:
$100.00

Reason(s) for denial or variation:

CERTIFICATION OF CLERK OF COURT: I certify that in connection with the above causes or matters, the defendant qualifies under Art. 26.04, CCP, for the benefits of a court appointed attorney.
_____________________________________________________________________,Clerk of Court

Effective March 1, 2006

McLennan County Discretionary Grant 212-05-D11


Grant report period March 1, 2006 – May 31, 2006

Final Report from the McLennan County Juvenile Court

The McLennan County Juvenile Court has been utilizing the notification system implemented through the Discretionary Grant since November, 2005. Through this system our Court is able to promptly notify court appointed attorneys of new juvenile appointments, whether they are currently in Detention or have been released. Attorneys can then set up Video Teleconferencing with their new appointment and conduct an initial visit with the juvenile, if still detained. The attorneys have expressed only favorable comments regarding this new system. They are excited to be able to utilize a new technology as well as initiate a rapport with their client in a more timely basis.


The initial pauper’s affidavit, which is e-mailed to the attorney, communicates to them the name of their appointment, current location of child, alleged offense committed, name, address, and phone number of guardian/parent, and also when a detention hearing will be conducted if so needed.
After the pauper’s affidavit, the attorney will then receive e-mail notice of their client’s court hearing date and time. A reset notice would also be sent via e-mail if the client would prefer a trial or there is a conflict with the original setting. All of these notices have enabled the Court to better utilize not only the Judge’s time but that of the Probation Department, District Attorney, defense attorney and, of course, that of the client.
Everyone who has been involved with the new notification system has found it to be a tremendous asset for the Court. We look forward to continuing with the system and hopefully continuing to cut down on delays and decreasing our detention population.
McLennan County Discretionary Grant 212-05-D11

Grant report period March 1, 2006 – May 31, 2006


Final Report from Randy Plemons, Chief Deputy:
The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office has been pleased with the Attorney/Inmate video teleconference system. Two (2) systems are located at our main jail facility. The System has saved countless jail staff hours in addition to keeping staff, attorneys, and inmates safe by less movement in the jail facility. We intend to continue to utilize this system and have hopes of expanding this system to other areas of our jail facility.




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