Government agencies are not often known for their innovation – especially when it comes to integrating new technologies. Or even old technologies.


The Arkansas Legislature approved $20 million to change that, at least for the state’s court system. The vision? Text reminders of court dates, ability to pay fines and fees online, a connected system that tracks across divisions.


It’s a project the Administrative Office of the Courts is building in house, working with a handful of other states.


Here’s the dream laid out by director Marty Sullivan:


Sullivan: “We’re able to pay on our phone for just about everything. So that’s what the citizens of Arkansas are expecting with our court system. So that’s what we’re going to be able to deliver with this investment. We’re going to do text reminders so individuals will know when their court date is. Hopefully, that will reduce failure to appear. If they have fines and fees, we’ll be able to text them that and say, ‘You can pay here and here’s the link to the payment portal.’ So this really is the most significant funds that I think have ever been allocated for state court technology.”

It’s not just about convenience. It’s also about cybersecurity. Sullivan said the court’s current system is being “constantly attacked” by foreign actors.


Sullivan: “And so just so you all know, we process over 1,200,000 cases a year in Arkansas State Court. So all of your constituents will show up in our state court system. So we’re talking about the case management system that holds all of these records. So I have many sleepless nights because we are constantly being attacked by foreign actors. We have the most sensitive records of citizens in the State of Arkansas, from juvenile records to individuals that are going through divorce. We have bank accounts, so we’re keeping that secure. And knock on wood, we’ve done a really good job with that. The problem here is these legacy-based systems that we have are over 20 years old, and they’re failing.”

While $20 million is a lot of money, it’s about half of what the court initially asked for. Senator Jonathan Dismang worried this would be more like a down payment and the agency will be back asking for more and more money to build out the system.


Sen Dismang: My understanding, though, is and this is the only reason is just to kind of put it on record that we don’t come back here three months from now, and we say that we need another $20 million. My understanding is that if this is awarded, this is all the money that you will need to complete the system. Is that correct? Or you’ll have the rest of the money that you need to complete the system?


Sullivan (Courts): We have worked through a plan to make sure that we won’t be back here anytime soon for sure.


Sen Dismang: I’m going for, like, ever.


Sullivan (Courts): Well, I mean, I don’t know, maybe in 20 years. 

One assurance wasn’t enough. Senator Dismang really doesn’t want to shell out more money for this system.


Sen Dismang: And so back to the blood oath, though. I mean, this is the only request that you are going to come make?


Sullivan (Courts): You have my word, Senator Dismang, that I will not be back asking for more.


Rep Gray: All right. He made sure to get that on the record.


Sullivan (Courts): He did that on the record.


The Peer Review Committee approved the $20 million, and it goes for final approval before ALC on Friday.