In many states, including Vermont, there is no system in place to automatically remind people of upcoming court dates. While for many situations missing an appointment is unfortunate, for those with criminal or civil court hearings that they must attend, the result of missing the hearing can be disastrous.
CourtBot is a text message notification system intended to allow anyone to receive automatic court date attendance reminders, for the express purpose of keeping people with court dates from missing them and suffering terrible consequences when they do.
CourtBot is a project of the Code for America brigade network that has already been implemented in numerous states around the country (Georgia, New Mexico, Alaska, and Oklahoma), to great effect. The software simply runs as a text message system you can subscribe to. When you give it a docket number, it sends you reminders a few days before the hearing and on the day of the hearing to help you get there on time. In order to do this, it interfaces with the regularly updated court calendar data and keeps track of a list of text message numbers to which it sends updates and reminders for any given docket.
Code for BTV started working with Code for Tulsa and Open Data Delaware to implement a CourtBot solution that relies on Code for Tulsa to provide the text message interface (hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS)) and Code for BTV to provide an API to access court calendar data. Code for BTV created a Python script to scrape the court calendar data from the Vermont judiciary website, reformatting it to JSON so that it can be stored on GitHub.
Over time we determined that it would be beneficial for the Vermont CourtBot to have it own text message engine, and to store the court date information we were scraping directly into a Mongo DB data store. While we hope to work with Code for Tulsa in the future, for the time being we have successfully deployed our tool on Heroku, with Mongo for the back end, and a Twilio non-profit account to send text messages.
We are currently working through challenges with recent changes to the docket numbering system (presumably as part of the upgrade to the Odyssey Case File system) that have made our scraping of the court date information less reliable.
Vermont Legal Aid / Vermont Judiciary
Other Key Contributors:
Lucas Johnson, Darren Klinefelter, Jake Durell, Thomas Bouffard