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Court Insider: New Defender Case Management System Debuts

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Court Insider

All 80 federal defender organizations in districts across the country have begun using a new web-based system, defenderData, to manage their case information; schedule events, generate, edit, index and search case-related documents, and produce reports. defenderData has been adapted exclusively for federal defenders and replaces a more than 15-year-old decentralized legacy system.

Everything about a case, from information about clients and charges to case disposition can be accessed by a federal defender using defenderData. The system is user-friendly, able to generate reports on cases received, closed or pending, as well as reports on any variation of case-related data, including case assignments by attorney, time spent per case or by offense or other variables monitored by the federal defender organization.

"The new system helps us better manage our cases," said David Stickman, Federal Public Defender for the District of Nebraska. "It can show us the workload by attorney and office and generate time reports, so we can adjust attorney assignments. And it gives us the ability to tailor new reports to our requirements. It’s flexible enough to respond to changing needs."

The new system also is a move from a decentralized architecture, where every federal defender organization had its own server and database, to a national database on a single server with automatic back up. Should the primary site fail, there will be no loss of service to users.

The design and development of the new system began in 2011 with the customization of a commercial off-the-shelf software product. By February of 2012, the project team and over 40 individuals from 17 federal defender organizations were testing the new system and documenting issues.

"It’s an intuitive system to use, since most people are familiar with web-based applications," said Stickman. "But we also received excellent training, including webinars, well in advance of the roll-out. People were ready to use the system when it arrived."

In April, federal defender organizations in the Southern District of West Virginia, Southern District of Texas, Western District of Kentucky, Eastern District of Missouri and the Districts of Nebraska and Nevada began the pilot. Federal defenders, trained on the new system in a series of webinars, helped further refine the system with their feedback.

By early summer 2012, defenderData was ready for its national debut. The first of seven waves of federal defender organizations "went live" with the system in June and the last group of defender organizations by the middle of August.

The national rollout has been completed, but the system is still evolving to meet user needs. Requests for customization or additional capabilities that affect all users will be reviewed and managed by a change control board composed of system users.