Curious to know whether the courts have closed because of a storm? Want to know the latest in court policy changes? Connecticut residents now need to look no further than Twitter to find out.
The state’s Judicial Branch is the latest in a growing number of government agencies turning to social networking and although the announcements will be somewhat, court administrators are looking forward to having a new tool to use in reaching their audience.
“It’s another way of getting information out to the public,” said Rhonda Stearley Hebert, spokeswoman for the state’s Judicial Branch. “We have been proud of our website and what we have been able to provide to the public there, but this is a system to help us reach a wider, broader audience.”
Stearley Hebert said the judicial branch Twitter account, @CTStateCourts, was first unveiled in December. It was created following the recent extreme weather including Tropical Storm Irene and the rare October Nor’Easter – both forced the courts to close in some areas for more than a week – and will be used specifically for closures, communicating local deadlines and attorney-related notices.
The move to Twitter is not a new trend. In fact, it has become the norm for many government entities in recent months.
The state’s legislature earlier this year created a Twitter account to help established to investigate responses to the storm and may be used during select hearings during the upcoming legislative session. Many local towns including Meriden, Avon (@TownofAvonCT) and West Hartford (@TownofWestHrtfd, @WestHartfordPD) also created accounts for their individual towns as a result of the storm.
"We created the Twitter account as an additional means to get information out to the public in the days following the storm while most public utilities remained out of service," Avon Assistant Town Manager Steve Bartha wrote in an e-mail to Patch. "Our thinking was that people without electricity, cable, internet, etc., were still able to use their smart phones to communicate. We aren’t sure how effective it was as a means of large scale communication, but a handful of people did seem to be following our tweets."
Southington police, which helped lead the charge when they established their own Facebook page and Twitter account, @SouthingtonPD, in 2009 as a way of reaching out to the public and providing immediate, up-to-date information during a storm or other public emergency.
Sgt. Lowell DePalma said these social networking sites have not only provided an outlet to use for emergency information, but also allows for the publishing of daily right to know information including arrest logs and press releases.
“It’s very unique and extremely helpful because the use of social media helps reduce any delay that could come with sending press releases to media outlets,” DePalma said. “When you send the information to a newspaper, it takes time for them to receive it and won’t be printed until the next day. Using this, the release of information is almost instant.”
Chief Court Administrator Barbara M. Quinn said although the judicial branch does not have a Facebook page yet, she is looking forward to the new opportunities that could open up as a result of the new Twitter page.
“Twitter is yet another way to get word out quickly about delays or closures due to inclement weather, news about events, revised court forms or procedures and a host of other developments,” Quinn said in a press. “Our account will link followers to new information posted on the Branch’s website, at www.jud.ct.gov, and we hope that users will find this ‘real-time’ service beneficial.”
Stearley Hebert said in the future, the courts could consider using the site for any information on more notable cases and other court happenings, but would need to look much closer at how to do so in a cost effective manner that also provides the impartiality necessary for an effective court system.
In the meantime, she said the state’s Judicial Branch is pleased with the early results of the Twitter page.
“We are seeing already that it can get the information out to two or three times the number of people we would have otherwise,” Stearley Hebert said. “When we post something, it is picked up by lawyers or other followers and retweeted. This is a great tool for us to have.”