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E-Notify system to be rolled out statewide

Senior Editor Top Stories

JD Peacock IIEncouraged by the results of a three-county pilot program, Florida court officials expect to launch “E-Notify” statewide by the end of January.

Since October, defendants and other interested parties in Orange, Okaloosa, and Nassau counties have been able to receive digital reminders — via text, email, or both — about pending court appearances and other milestones in criminal cases.

“Nobody can even get to the dentist on time without some sort of text or email,” said Okaloosa Court Clerk JD Peacock III. “That’s just the way the world works these days.”

E-Notify users are directed to a website where they register for free. In addition to choosing how they are alerted, users also have a choice of when they are alerted — any combination of 14-days, seven-days, or the day before.

Peacock, a member of a workgroup that developed the program, said it’s popular in Northwest Florida.

“My judges here in Okaloosa County are loving it, they’re all over it,” Peacock said.

Judges are urging defendants to register when they issue instructions, Peacock said.

The system went online in October, but promotion didn’t begin until December. By January 7, some 90 users had registered, and the system had issued 269 email alerts and 337 text reminders.

Paul Flemming, a public information officer for the Office of State Courts Administrator, describes the pilot as “proof of concept,” and says court administrators are pleased with the performance so far.

Some refinements are being made, including changing the language of the alerts to refer to names instead of case numbers.

The system was designed to lower failure-to-appear rates, but court officials soon realized that crime victims, advocates, and others could benefit, too.

“We think members of the public with an interest in cases will find it valuable to make sure that they don’t miss any hearings,” said First Judicial Circuit Judge Linda Nobles, another workgroup member. “Others, including the media, now have a valuable resource as well.”

Peacock said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, included $750,000 in proviso language into the state budget two years ago to begin development of a digital system that could lower failure-to-appear rates. Lawmakers appropriated $350,000 last year as actual costs became more apparent, Peacock said.

Studies show that a similar system significantly reduced failure-to-appear rates for minor offenses in New York City, Peacock said.

The system could also be a time-saver for court clerks, Peacock said.

“My office gets calls all day long just from people trying to figure out their court dates,” he said.

Court officials are studying ways to expand E-Notify to civil cases, but that could be more complicated because the system is less centralized, Peacock said.

Polk County Court Clerk Stacy Butterfield, president of Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, calls E-Notify “an incredibly helpful tool.”

“Technology optimization remains one of our main priorities,” Butterfield said. “Technology enhances our operations, but most importantly, it makes our customers’ lives easier and provides them with more convenient access to our services.”

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