A morning in Spotsylvania General District Court observing misdemeanor arraignments and Virginia State Trooper speeding cases from Interstate 95 yielded a startling revelation: America should close some courthouses! This is not about to happen, of course. But it is useful to think outside the box when you need to save money.
Schools and hospitals require your physical presence in order for you to benefit from their services. I understand that. But courthouses are different — They may not need to exist in so many places. Here’s why:
There are only two (2) situations when individuals absolutely need to be in court: criminal trials (so defendants can be incarcerated if found guilty), and matters of witness credibility (think juries). Everything else can be handled electronically, from wherever lawyers, judges, witnesses and support personnel happen to be. Much demonstrative evidence is already digitized in the courtroom. At the courthouse yesterday, most prisoners did not leave jail to be arraigned; they appeared on closed circuit TV.
Each state could have one mega-courthouse, and satellite hearing rooms scattered among the smaller towns with tables, chairs and Webcams, perhaps in post offices. (The Postal Service could use the revenue.)
The savings in human capital (notably travel and waiting time), and in physical capital would be enormous. We have fifty states with different laws, yet within each state the laws are the same in all courthouses. Why have so many multiples of things that are functionally identical if we want to cut costs?
There is one federal body of law for the whole country, applied in more than a dozen circuits. Each circuit has local rules. It is possible to continue labeling decisions by circuit, selectively apply local rules, and utilizing technology to centralize brief-filing and oral argument with fewer staff and lower overhead nationwide.
In Korea, billboard scan codes enable you by smart phone to place an order from a laundry list of stores, and receive home-delivery. After we consolidate our courthouses, we should try to to replace shopping centers with regional warehouses like Amazon’s.