Paperless courts: Michigan bill will establish SCAO policies, practices statewide

By Gary Gosselin

Dolan Media Newswires

DETROIT, MI--A measure to remove one of the last roadblocks to true paperless court records and filing, House Bill 4064, has passed the House and should be through the Senate and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder by summer.

"I would assume when we get on the schedule that it should pass easily, I don't see any problem, it certainly makes good sense," said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We should take it up within a month and I would predict before summer [Snyder] will sign it into law."

The bill introduced by state Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, deletes some of the archaic recordkeeping requirements of the paper era, and requires the State Court Administrative Office to establish and maintain records management policies and procedures for all courts, including a records retention and disposal schedule.

HB 4064 also would allow-- but not require--a court to provide "enhanced access" and to charge a reasonable fee to cover costs of operating expenses directly related to the enhanced access.

Running concurrently is a SCAO initiative to bring standard e-filing capabilities to every court in the state.

The SCAO has contracted with Southfield-based ImageSoft to use its True-filing software for the initiative and start with the Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals by summer this year, said Scott Bade, president of ImageSoft.

"It's early in the process, but we're underway doing some analysis and design for the Supreme Court and Appellate Court for e-filing," Bade said.

"We're also looking to partner with the [Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget]," to implement servers in its data center to host data for the project, he added.

The e-filing initiative is a joint project with ImageSoft, the SCAO and the MDTMB, and had assistance from the National Center for State Courts.

The SCAO Technology implementation Committee is comprised mainly of trial court judges, administrators, clerks, and information systems staff.

One of the projects it is focusing on now is e-filing court rules, and associated standards and guidelines. There is a Statewide Technology Implementation Plan, though it is still in the "plan" stages, said SCAO spokeswoman Marcia McBrien, and it is subject to change.

The plan covers a lot of ground, including establishing statewide rules and guidelines, fee schedules, local implementation protocol, training, and technology tool kits to aid the judiciary in implementing technology at both the statewide and local level, according to the SCAO website.

The Technology Implementation Committee will assist the SCAO in developing the various products at its quarterly meetings in 2013. The committee held a meeting March 14, and will have other meetings June 13, Sept. 19, and Dec. 5.

Cost savings are expected in all courts with fewer personnel, less time spent on forms, fewer work stations, less paperwork, and fewer delays in the process.

For instance, Bade said, Ottawa County implemented an electronic content management system across its courts, police and mental health agencies, and expects $10.6 million in cost savings in 25 years. It also projected that when the state implements a similar system, it will save an estimated $1.19 billion over the same period.

In addition, after seven years of work, the state is nearing completion of its content management system that can be used by courts statewide, said 14A District Court Chief Judge Kirk Tabbey, who also is a member of the Technology Implementation Committee.

The Judicial Information Systems division of the SCAO has been working with the Washtenaw County courts and Berrien County courts, which kicked in about $2 million in total with JIS spending about $25 million to create the system. The Courts have been working with the JIS on pilot programs the past couple years.

"That puts us on the ground floor and gets us access," Tabbey said. "They were able to move us onto the system currently and we're in the process of data conversion now."

He said the state owns the source code, so there are and will not be payments to vendors and there will not be charges every time a change has to be made to the system when vendors are used to support a court's system.

At one time, he said, there were more than 40 different legacy court information management systems in place around the state, and although that number is about half now, it makes it very difficult to coordinate those systems to interact.

"As we get closer to the implementation, these legacy [providers] will lose the opportunity to service the courts but when [courts] get tired of paying royalty fees and not being able to communicate, and have to pay for changes, they might want to join the big gorilla and get on the state system."

They should be able to provide the system to district courts by next summer, he said, and as long as that works out, they will quickly roll out to other courts. Although Tabbey couldn't give an exact timeline, he said "five years is unacceptable."

Because of lack of money, they are going to have to be creative in rolling out the system, he said. The JIS may offer to train a court or courts in exchange for those courts to train other courts with the same agreement, so the only cost would be in using newly trained court personnel to train other courts. That has yet to be worked out though, Tabbey said.

Macomb County signed with ImageSoft and is using the firm to replace its workflow technology and for its TrueFiling, e-file software, said Macomb County CIO Sandy Jurek.

Getting its workflow software will make implementation of the e-filing easier, she said, because the software meshes easier and that's what the state will be using when it starts implementing its efile initiative.

Former Chief Judge David Viviano, now a Supreme Court justice, worked with IT on a system, she said, and he and another judge had been testing e-filing --at least partially--for the better part of two years.

The 16th Circuit (in Macomb) should have its revamped e-filing system in place by the end of summer, said Anthony June, communications and technology manager. In addition, there will be enhanced judge's tools, and the software will allow case filing and all substitute filings online.

The system should start processing civil cases by the end of year, but it will take a couple years for to fully implement for probate, juvenile, civil and criminal cases, he said.

Bade said ImageSoft already works with 18 counties, so transition in those counties to the state system should be much easier and less expensive than without.

But, like Macomb, which had a document management system in place, those counties can still work with the current system and prepare the court for e-filing.

"Our hope is that we can get some of the trial courts this year, we certainly will have the appellate/supreme courts ready to go this year, and are having discussions to see how fast [the state officials] want to move," Bade said. "It's only valuable to attorneys if it covers a broad area of courts, and if it can cover a fair number of cases they work on, it will have value."

"I think with the state and so many courts moving to efile, we will reach a critical mass and are more ready to move forward than before," Macomb Court Administrator Jennifer Phillips said.

© Dolan Media Newswires 2013.

Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is expressly forbidden.

Published: Mon, Mar 25, 2013

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