Technology

State begins modernizing case-management systems: Moving from paper to electronic records a big task

June 25, 2007

Beside a marble counter in the Appellate Clerk of the Courts office at the Indiana Statehouse, a one-room storage area known as "the vault" is the storehouse for paper case files. Each is bound by string and has case numbers written on an attached tag, and they only move to be carted between floors and buildings when a court needs to review a file.

While the clerk creates an electronic docket at the appellate level, that system remains largely unconnected with the lower courts where those cases originate.

Meanwhile, trial courts have their own scattered case-management systems that give administrators and judges only a limited glimpse of how they're managing caseloads and how the local systems work.

"It's quaint, but we've been doing it that way for decades and decades," said Kevin Smith, Indiana Supreme Court Administrator and Clerk for the Appellate Courts. "In this day and age, there's got to be a better way than carting paper documents around."

There is, and both Indiana's appellate and trial levels are moving in that direction after years of discussion and planning. The final vision is years from being realized, but Indiana's legal system is already getting a gradual introduction to a pair of case-management and e-filing systems that could likely mirror what the federal courts have implemented.

Indiana has started putting the pieces of the massive technological puzzle together, spending millions to create a statewide case-management system that will connect all 92 counties' courts and more than 1.5 million cases-the largest technology project in the history of Hoosier courts. Separately, a similar project is getting under way: The appellate courts have about $460,000 budgeted for this coming fiscal year to explore an appellate level e-filing and case-management system of its own.

Both are on separate paths with various components of their own, but each will eventually tie into the other and offer a comprehensive technological tool to view, manage, and interpret the Hoosier court system.

Statewide case management

While most counties have local case management of their own using homegrown systems or multiple vendor products, none are connected across county lines and few actually manage information, such as automatically scheduling hearings.

Only about three or four states nationwide have a statewide system, but more are moving in that direction, according to the National Center for State Courts. Indiana is on its way to becoming a player.

Led by the Indiana Supreme Court's Judicial Technology and Automation Committee, this project has been envisioned since 2002. The state again began actively searching for a vendor to implement a new system last year, and in November the Indiana Supreme Court chose Texas-based Tyler Technologies for the job. It recently signed an $11 million contract for the software, called Odyssey. This software enables courts to automate all casemanagement functions, such as imaging, accounting, dockets, calendars, reporting, and merging of various documents.

Overall, the project is estimated to cost about $70 million for staff, training, software, and licensing costs in rolling out the system, according to Mary DePrez, director and counsel for trial court technology.

Two county systems-Monroe County Courts and the Washington Township Small Claims Court-are the first to get a hands-on look at the new Case Management System being implemented statewide. They are currently going through a "proof of concept," or POC, lab test phase to test the software and make changes along the way.

A long process

A goal is to have both up and running by the end of the year, with seven more implemented by late 2008 or early 2009, DePrez said. Further implementation depends on the schedule and funding.

"In this first phase, we're really identifying gaps," said Rand Lennox, the JTAC case-management product manager. "Overall, from our evaluations, we see that Tyler (Technologies) was about 72 percent there already."

So far, gaps include financial components unique to Indiana, Lennox said. One aspect is that judgment collections go through court clerks rather than through the parties as happens in other states. Another gap in the software comes from the fact that Indiana clerks are personally responsible for judgments entered, Lennox said.

Custom-built sentencing dispositions are also needed here, as well as a probation supervision module; probation departments are often part of executive branches in other states, not the judicial.

Typical modifications needed in all states include boilerplate language for certain types of hearings on Chronological Case Summaries, as well as state-specific interfaces to connect with agencies and report judgments.

The system will tie into related JTAC projects, such as motor vehicle records, an electronic citation and warning system linking courts, traffic violations, and police officers; a protective-order registry; and a reporting system for probation departments.

Monroe Circuit Judge Kenneth Todd looks forward to this new system allowing the county to link to all types of state databases, such as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Indiana State Police.

"This is very impressive in itself, but when you have a fantasy as to where you want to be, there's always ways to improve," he said. "This opens up a lot of vistas for us, to see where we can go with e-filing and procedures that now are time consuming. Most of all, it will allow us to combine records into different databases and give us a way to analyze better what we do, and how effective our justice system works."
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