Indiana's top courts are pushing ahead with adopting an electronic-filing system that state officials say will eventually give the public free access to online court records statewide.
The Indiana Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals began offering e-filing in November, and the Indiana Tax Court, will follow in January. The goal is for trial courts in all 92 counties to offer e-filing by the end of 2018; one county has already instituted it and six others will follow in the first half of 2016.
Attorneys can still file paper versions of briefs and other legal documents for the two top state courts, but they're already starting to embrace e-filing because it eliminates the costs of photocopying, binding, mailing and hand-delivering voluminous amounts of documents, high court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said.
It's a "modernization of how we do business," she said, noting it will lessen the state's need to store reams of legal documents. Dolan said the Supreme Court alone is asked to consider about 1,000 cases each year and each can generate multiple banker boxes' worth of documents, all of which must be stored in Indiana's downtown Indianapolis government complex and other locations.
"Sometimes we have to request the old documents from storage, or offer attorneys the ability to look at things on microfilm, so this is certainly modernizing the process to just accept the electronic document in the first place," Dolan said.
The state Supreme Court announced in May 2014 that Indiana would move toward a statewide e-filing system.
Hamilton County, the state's fast-growing county that is just north of Indianapolis, started accepting court documents online in July. In the first 100 days, more than 4,000 documents were filed electronically with the county clerk's office.
Local officials had expected there might be glitches, but the new system has gone smoothly and attorneys who've used it are pleased with the cost-savings and convenience, said Debbie LePere, the county's deputy clerk.
Six Indiana counties — Clark, Harrison, Henry, St. Joseph, Shelby and Wells — will be joining Hamilton County in implementing e-filing during the first half of 2016, with more to come later.
The transition will be paid for in part by an increase in the filing fee for civil cases. Indiana's two-year state budget approved last spring also allocates $14.5 million each year for programs that include developing and implementing the statewide e-filing system for court documents, as well as case management systems and related initiatives, said Matt Lloyd, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Pence.
Tyler Technologies, a state contractor which manages an online court docket system called Odyssey that about 60 percent of Indiana's counties have joined over the past several years, will implement and manage the e-filing system for county-level trial courts.
There will be challenges in getting the wide range of computer systems used by Indiana's counties "to start talking to each other," said Stephen Creason, a deputy attorney general and chief counsel of the state Attorney General office's appeals division.
But once those kinks are worked out, he said, attorneys, litigants and the general public will have free access to lawsuits, court documents on criminal and civil actions and other court matters.
"Essentially the clerk's office doors are going to be open electronically, on the Internet, 24-7, 365 days a year, at no cost," he said. "So, the public can find out what the business of the courts is and what is going on in the court system.
"I think that's a huge step forward for Indiana."