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New Supreme Court Rule Authorizing Text Message Notification Programs

1/27/2021

New Supreme Court Rule Authorizing Text
Message Notification Programs

January 27, 2021

Text messages are one of the most effective, accessible, and inexpensive modes of communication, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. New Illinois Supreme Court Rule 14 allows courts to leverage this simple but meaningful technology by permitting any court or clerk to implement a text message notification program with chief circuit judge approval. Counties that have already taken advantage of this solution, including Cook, McHenry, Winnebago, and Boone, have reported positive feedback from judges and probation officers.

One of the easiest ways to stand up a text message notification program is to explore opportunities with a court's existing case management system (CMS). Goodin Associates, Ltd., CMS for Boone County and over 70 other Illinois counties, has already contracted with a third-party vendor for their text messaging functionality. Thus, implementation for Boone County required little to no work and is now available for defendants in traffic and criminal cases and for the probation office's clients, although Goodin's capabilities are not limited to criminal case types. Litigants sign-up for notifications on the Boone County Circuit Clerk's website by providing their case or ticket number and mobile phone number, which then activates a functionality in the CMS to send automated text messages by integrating with the court's schedule. See Boone County Clerk of Circuit Court Homepage (last visited Jan. 26, 2021) (follow "SIGN UP HERE" hyperlink). Other CMS vendors, including JANO Technologies, Inc., are also beginning to offer this service.

Another economical way to rapidly deploy a text message notification program is to work directly with a third-party vendor like Twilio Inc. or Text Power, Inc. McHenry County has teamed up with Twilio to offer text message reminders in all publicly available cases. Litigants, attorneys, witnesses, victims, media outlets, and other interested parties may opt in to receive text or email reminders of court dates two days before, one day before, and the morning of their scheduled court date. See McHenry County Clerk of Circuit Court Homepage (last visited Jan. 26, 2021) (follow "Court Date Reminders" hyperlink).

Likewise, for pennies per message, Winnebago County has worked with Text Power, Inc. to offer text message notifications in criminal cases, including pre-trial and probation services. The launch, which only took a few months to execute, has allowed Winnebago County to better serve criminal defendants and seems to have decreased failure to appear rates. At the same time, Winnebago is in the process of developing its own in-house text message program in collaboration with the County's new emergency notification system. The hope is to expand the use of text message reminders to all civil matters in Winnebago County.

Almost everyone has a phone that can receive a text message, and new Rule 14 can help courts reach some of its most underserved litigants. The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice applauds counties such as Boone, McHenry, and Winnebago for enhancing access to justice and hopes to see these programs replicated in other parts of the state. If you are interested in learning more about text message reminder programs, please contact Sarah Song at ssong@illinoiscourts.gov.