Improving the Legal Case Process for All Involved

On Wednesday, May 20th, a team of judges, prosecuting attorneys, public defenders, corrections officers, and judicial administrators participated in a value stream mapping session, coordinated by the Continuous Improvement Team.

The workshop participants traced each step in the process of trying a case in order to identify potential opportunities for improvement. Team members represented and mapped the process for both the Regional Justice Center in Kent and the King County Courthouse in Seattle.

(L to R) Public Defender Josephine Wiggs-Martin, Captain Roberta Johnson of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, and Prosecuting Attorney Kathy Van Olst discuss the process map.

(L to R) Public Defender Josephine Wiggs-Martin, Captain Roberta Johnson of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, and Prosecuting Attorney Kathy Van Olst discuss the process map.

Simply mapping the case process is itself revealing and important work, requiring participants from multiple agencies and offices to step outside the necessarily impartial, adversarial casework in order to work together to improve the system for all involved, especially those on trial and victims seeking resolution of the cases.

Following the mapping workshop and discussion, the group has begun digging deeper into the problems that surfaced and developing plans to address them.

Two issues jumped out immediately. In one, the group has already taken improvement actions. In the other, the group will soon be discussing and developing plans to change the process.

  • More accessible pleas in Kent. In Seattle, when a plea bargain is reached, it can quickly be heard by a judge and filed. That eliminates unnecessary waiting by all parties involved in the plea.

To create a similar path in Kent, Judge Patrick Oishi is already creating more open space on court calendars to accept pleas, as in Seattle.

  • Standby for Trial.  Everyone agreed that too many cases are on “standby for trial” status each day. The frustration of standby affects almost everyone involved in the case process. When a case is on standby on given day:
      • Defendants wait in holding cells with little information, and often then are told at the end of the day, “not today.”
      • Attorneys must have all these cases ready to proceed that day and all the witnesses have to be subpoenaed, etc.
      • Public defenders also feel that the uncertainty and frustration undermines their relationships with clients.
      • Staff in the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention are taxed by the additional administrative and other demands on their time.

    All this creates much waste and stress. Initial improvement work to reduce standby and develop a better way of loading cases for the day is getting underway.

This work has just begun, but improvements in these areas and others under consideration could lead to more effective, speedier, or clearer processes that would benefit everyone involved in these cases, including those on trial and the victims of crimes.

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