Electronic Content Management System: Muskegon Family Court set to go paperless



Eric Stevens, Muskegon County Circuit and Family Court Administrator and attendees of March 18 meetings of Lakeshore Legal Association.

By Diana L. Coleman

Legal News

The Lakeshore Legal Association held its meeting March 18, 2015, at the law offices of Potuznik, Carrozza, Wilson and Pannucci.

The group invited Eric Stevens, Muskegon County Circuit and Family Court Administrator, to speak about the new Electronic Content Management System which will go live soon for the Muskegon County Family Court and Friend of the Court and follow with Circuit Court, Probate Court and the Business Court later in the summer.  Stevens has spearheaded the project to bring Muskegon County Circuit Court, Family Court, Business, and Probate Court into this century with paperless files.  The go-live date for Family Court was to be April 13, but the latest information from Circuit Court Deputy Clerk Marcia Wilkes is that it has been pushed forward to sometime in May.

The meeting was attended by court staff, judicial secretaries, representatives of the public defender’s office, legal assistants, and legal secretaries, who led a lively discussion including many questions about the workings of the new system.  Stevens explained in detail the intent of the system, but said that, as with any massive change, it is bound to have growing pains.  In the end, all files in the Muskegon County Circuit, Probate, Business, and Family Court will be paperless.

Because currently paper files are brought into court for hearings or reopened proceedings, that paper file will be scanned with the intent that eventually all files will be available on the electronic content system.

The Family Court filings will be the first to go live.  When a case is filed, it will be given a case code by circuit court records and scanned into the Electronic Content Management System at that time.  From that time forward, all related filings in a particular case will also be scanned and assigned to that case code number. The system will be programmed so that the assigned judge, the prosecutor’s office, friend of the court, and all parties who would normally be provided hard copies will receive the documents electronically in their respective offices.

The courtroom will be equipped with monitors on the plaintiff and defendant tables, the bench, and the bailiff’s station.  “During a jury trial, the bailiff will be able to scan an exhibit directly into the system and display it on an overhead screen for the jury to view immediately,” said Stevens.

Stevens explained that attorneys will have the option to subscribe to the service and view the entire file from their offices.  Notes by judges, counsel, referees etc. will be scanned into the file but will only be available for view by the person making the notes; for example, if Judge Hoogstra makes personal notes during a hearing and scans them into the system, the next time the case is before her bench, she will pull up the case file on her monitor and all her notes will be there for her review.

The judge’s docket for the day will automatically be pulled and available on the judge’s monitor so that the computer can send the judge the e-files for all cases to be heard on a given day.

Stevens explained, “There will be a scanner in the courtroom and items can be scanned right then or after the hearing.  The system allows for e-signatures, and counsel can access and print the order from their own computers.  We have not worked out the fee for access to all public records, but the app is available and will allow counsel to view the whole file and print whatever portion they need.”

Eventually, the police will also have a portal so that they can send information to the prosecutor directly from their cruisers and the prosecutor. Police officers will be able to e-sign a warrant and, after the warrant is authorized electronically, it goes to the judge for the judge’s e-signature.

“Process serving can be done electronically,” said Stevens.  “If counsel for the other side has agreed to receive service electronically, it can be sent directly to opposing counsel’s computer.”

The system “True Search” will also have the capability for electronic certification of documents.

“I think one of the highlights of the system is that it provides a tracking system for every document filed in a case,” said Stevens.  “This will eliminate lost documents that do occasionally come up missing in a file.”  He strongly suggested that people not just drop your documents in the Circuit Court Records office, but wait until they are done being scanned into the system.  “A hard copy will be kept by the court for approximately six months for reference should any scanning errors occur,” he said, “such as missing a page during scanning.”

While the new Electronic Content Management System for Muskegon County will have to go through all the normal challenges inherent in changing over to an entirely new way of conducting business, in the end it will bring Muskegon County up to speed with neighboring counties such as Ottawa who have had an electronic filing system in place for some time.  Progress involves always continuing to learn new practices.