I’ve never been in a courtroom before, can I still become a court watcher
There is no prior legal training required to be a court watcher. In fact, we love working with folks without legal backgrounds. Part of our mission is translating confusing things about the court to the community, and people without legal backgrounds are good at picking up on these issues because they might be confused by them, too. A diverse group of court watchers with different life experiences is essential for collecting great data and makes our program stronger.
I’m afraid my prior experience with the justice system might make me ineligible to court watch, is this the case?
Avoiding potential conflicts of interest is important to ensuring the integrity of our data, but most potential conflicts will not prevent you from court watching. In most cases, we just need to avoid assigning you to a specific courtroom. Please contact our Court Watching Program Director, Jesse Manley, at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your specific circumstances.
Does Court Watch NOLA offer internships?
Yes! Our standard court watching program usually meets the requirements for most internship programs, but if you have more things you’d like to do beyond in-court observations, we would love to discuss those opportunities with you. We sometimes have interns assist with data projects or research projects for our reports. Please contact email@example.com for more information about internships.
How do I get scheduled for a courtroom observation?
Fill out the availability form at courtwatchnola.org/schedule. The schedule is made on Fridays, so please get updated availability by Friday at noon.
What if my schedule changes?
If it’s a one-week change, then you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with the change. Schedule updates need to be submitted by Friday at noon for the following week. If your regular schedule changes for more than one week, submit a new availability form at courwatchnola.org/schedule.
When will I get the docket for court?
For Criminal District Court, you should get an email the evening before your scheduled observation with the docket. For Municipal First Appearances and Magistrate Court, you will get an email the day of the observation with the docket. For Municipal Court Regular Docket (in-person), you’ll need to ask the clerk in the courtroom to print you a docket.
I’m waiting for the Zoom room to open. How long should I wait?
We don’t expect you to wait all day for court to open. If it has been longer than 15 minutes, please follow the instructions in the “What to do if you don’t make it into court” document. If you have been waiting 45 minutes and court still isn’t open, you can drop off. Please upload a data sheet that indicates court was closed to you and fill out an online observation issues report.
How long will the observation last?
It depends on the length of the docket. Municipal First Appearances is currently running fairly short dockets, so observations are usually around 30 minutes. Criminal District Court dockets vary significantly depending on the section and day. Plan for 2-2.5 hrs, but if the docket is short, it could be less than 30 minutes. Magistrate First Appearances is definitely the longest observation. These can run multiple hours, so you may not be able to stay until the end. Plan for 2.5hrs, and if you can stay longer, that’s great, but it’s not required. Please don’t stay for an extraordinary amount of time and burn yourself out. Pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
I’ve just finished a court observation. How do I upload my data?
The email with the dockets should have the link to the upload form, but you can also go to the “Current Court Watchers” page. Each court has a section for “Enter your _________ Court Observations.”
When do I need to upload my data?
Upload your data as soon as you can. If you can do it immediately after the observation, you will remember the details better. But we do understand that it’s not always possible to upload immediately. Please try to do so within 48hrs of the observation.
I don’t know the answer to one of the questions on the data upload form. Should I leave it blank?
On many of the data sheets, you won’t have something to put in every blank. The data sheets should cover almost everything you might see in any session, but one individual session will almost certainly not have everything that’s on the data sheet. But, when you upload your data in the upload form, try to put something in every blank. If you didn’t observe something in your session (which will almost certainly be the case for some of the questions on the data sheet), then there should be an answer for “I didn’t see this,” “N/A,” “0,” or “I’m not sure.” Having as few “blank” answers as possible make processing the data easier for us, so please try to answer every field.
Do I have to track my hours?
Community Court Watchers are encouraged to track their hours using our volunteer tracking system, but it is not a requirement. We understand that folks will have different comfort levels with technology, and this system isn’t absolutely essential to community court watching, so it’s optional. If you want to try it, we will provide you with whatever support we can.
Student court watchers who are receiving credit for court watching MUST use the hours tracking system. We need to report back to the class or program to confirm credit, and calculating this outside of the hours tracking system is an incredibly time consuming process. The hours tracking system will also allow you to check your own progress towards your requirements without having to wait for Court Watch staff to calculate your hours and respond.
I attended my court session but forgot to check into/out of the courthouse. Can I still receive credit for those hours?
Yes. Please fill out this form for missing hours.