COLUMBIA — For most people who work in the Boone County Courthouse, a new, electronic filing system going live next year should make the workday easier. For lawyers and the public, it should save time.
The 13th Circuit Court for Boone County will go nearly paperless in 2014, when "eFiling" goes live. Attorneys will submit their paperwork online, and judges will refer to monitors in the courtroom, instead of paper files. Callaway County — part of the 13th Judicial Circuit along with Boone County — switched to eFiling in October, so judges who work in both counties have had time to adjust.
What they have found is a bit of slowdown in getting through the docket because it takes longer to find the cases via computer. But overall, the benefits of the electronic system outweigh the negative.
"It's going to be a big deal when it comes to Boone County," Circuit Judge Kevin Crane said. "I think everybody's been doing a great job of adapting."
Callaway County Clerk Judy Groner described the switch to paperless as "amazing" in time savings and backlog reduction in the Clerk's office.
“Looking for files, pulling files, refiling files — when no paper files come in, it's amazing how much time you save,” she said.
The digital switch is part of a nationwide trend. New York, Florida, Colorado, Utah and Texas are among the states that have already switched or are in the process of upgrading to eFiling. In Missouri, the Supreme Court, the state appellate courts and, by the end of the 2013, 27 circuit courts will have made the transition.
Callaway County was the second trial court in Missouri to switch to eFiling. Its small size, proximity to Jefferson City, where the Office of State Courts Administrator is located, and preparedness made Callaway an ideal choice to pilot the change, Boone County Circuit Clerk Christy Blakemore said. As Callaway was piloting eFiling in Missouri, the State Courts Office provided the documents scanners, monitors and work stations needed for the switch.
Administrators from Boone County have been working with Callaway County and St. Charles County – which was the first trial court to upgrade – to work out the details of the switch. St. Charles is similar in size to Boone, so it can offer solutions to many technical problems that might not affect the smaller Callaway County courts, Blakemore said.
Crane, who works in Callaway and Boone counties, is making the adjustment to the new system. He said when he works in Callaway it takes more time to locate and open documents on the computer than when reading from paper files. And time is precious in court.
“If you increase the time you spend on a given case by three minutes and you've got 50 or 60 cases, you can see how that would prolong the docket,” Crane said. “That's what I’m working on trying to avoid.”
In a Callaway County courtroom, Judge Gary Oxenhandler had to deal with a computer glitch when E-bench, the program judges use to access documents, went down, Crane said.
But the glitches are part of adjusting to change. "You have to adapt," he said. "As we go along, we're discovering new ways to improve our efficiency."
In Boone County, the funding for the switch is coming from the Circuit Clerk's budget and the Court Administrator's budget. The Clerk's office spent about $15,000 in the 2012 and 2013 budget to buy 15 scanners and 14 monitors, Blakemore said. She estimated another $16,000 will be necessary to complete the changes.
The Court Administrator has budgeted about $25,000 to update courtrooms and judge's chambers, mainly with scanners, monitors and computer workstations, according to data provided by Court Administrator Kathy Lloyd. Additional money will be needed to update other departments such as the juvenile office and court services, Lloyd said.
Other counties recommended purchasing new monitors, because it is easier to use dual monitors in the courtroom and in the Clerk's office, Blakemore said. But she noted that the department will save money on paper, postage, microfilming and storage of records after the switch.
One problem the court will have to solve is that agencies, including the Division of Probation and Parole and the Department of Social Services — specifically the Juvenile and Family Services divisions — can't submit documents on line because they are not Bar certified, Blakemore said. The court is looking for a way to enable these agencies to submit documents electronically, she said. Pro se litigants — people who act as their own attorney and generally file small claims cases, orders of protection and ex parte cases — also won't be able to file documents on line.
Nor will the public be able to access documents on line, from wherever they are, Groner said. After the switch, they will be able to use two public access computers in the civil division of the Clerk's office to find documents themselves on Missouri Case.Net, instead of standing in line in the clerk's office and asking for a copy. These would include public records like a probable cause statement, charging document, or final judgements.
As a time saver in what is sure to be a monumental task, some documents may not be scanned into the system. So Blakemore said she doesn't expect all paper to disappear from courtrooms right away.
“We may have a two-year period where if there’s a probation violation, that file is coming back to the courtroom, and it’s not going to be electronic because it’s not smart for us to take our time and scan that whole thing for maybe a handful of hearings,” Blakemore said.
The Office of State Courts Administrator has not finalized the 2014 calendar yet to decide the exact date when eFiling will go live in Boone County.