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Spokane Public Defenders Try Texting To Get Clients To Court

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Many of the inmates in the Spokane County jail are there because they missed a court date. Sometimes it was intentional, sometimes not. Sometimes a person was supposed to appear in court, but didn’t know that, and when he or she didn’t show, a judge would sign a warrant for that person’s arrest and an officer would go make that arrest and book them into jail.

Spokane County Public Defender Tom Krzyminski says it’s one reason why the facility is often so crowded.

“So in looking at that and just sort of asking the question, what can we do as public defenders to, hopefully, improve that, we started to look at some notification systems, sort of along the same lines as, you have a doctor’s appointment. You receive one, two, three reminders, maybe more. We said how do we do something like that?” he said.

Krzyminski found a Silicon Valley company called Uptrust that sends text reminder messages to defendants. You are due at 9 am tomorrow in Judge So-and-So’s courtroom. It can even let them know that day care is available at the courthouse or it can convey some other message of convenience for that particular person. The county commissioners voted this week to spend the $40,000 needed to install the new system here.

“It will be very personal. They will feel like they are actually receiving a text from their attorney, which they are, but it is based on the system Uptrust provides to us,” Krzyminski said.

One of the benefits of the system is that it can provide instantaneous communications with a client, which, in the case of a missed court appearance, can prevent a lot of hassle.

“So you may get a response from a client saying, ‘I didn’t realize that. I don’t have transportation today. What do I do?’ The ability to then communicate back through the app, which I believe, if you’re standing in court, a judge is saying ‘why is your client not here?’ You may be able to answer that question in real time,” Krzyminski said.

Krzyminski expects the new system will reduce a lot of wasted court and attorney’s time through better communication.

“There’s two benefits: keeping people out of custody and secondly, maybe length of stay will be a lot less because we’ll be able to have this communication system and, hopefully, reduce some active caseloads this way,” he said.

Krzyminski says 10 of his attorneys will participate in a pilot program, beginning later this month, to see whether the new system will get more defendants in court more often. He says data from other venues where Uptrust is used show that will likely be the case.