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Nancy Rogers feeds civil court case documents into a scanner at the Greene County Circuit Clerk's office.
Nancy Rogers feeds civil court case documents into a scanner at the Greene County Circuit Clerk's office.

Greene County Court begins shift to e-files

Posted online
With an e-filing system now being piloted in St. Charles County and the Missouri Supreme Court, and anticipation that the system will eventually be used statewide, the 31st Judicial Circuit in Greene County is positioning itself to be ready.

The Greene County circuit courts adopted a policy in 2011 to have documents for some cases scanned and retained electronically for court usage starting in 2012, and on Jan. 5, Judge Dan Conklin heard the first case in the 31st Judicial Court using e-files.

With a change that took effect in January, documents for circuit court civil cases, primarily traffic and minor violations and ex parte cases are being stored electronically, said Greene County Circuit Clerk Steve Helms, noting that historically, the 31st circuit handles about 9,000 cases of those types annually.

“The reason the courts limited it to doing specific case types is because this is all a changing of procedures and operations, and they didn’t want to go from nothing to everything all at one time,” Helms said. “There will be some confusion, when you have nine judges and six commissioners. It’s a lot of training, and there are not many other counties that are utilizing paperless files in their courtrooms.”

Key first step
Helms said it’s important to note the difference between using e-files – which replace paper court documents with electronic counterparts – and the act of e-filing, through which attorneys could submit documents for new or existing cases electronically to be received by the court.

He noted, however, that the move toward e-files is a first step toward e-filing.

“The actual judgment is signed on paper by the judge, and that is scanned in, so the e-file portion is the electronic record of the courts,” Helms said. “So if you come to the court to look at the file the judge heard, there won’t be a paper file for you to pull. You’ll have to go to one of our terminals and view it electronically.”

Taking that step is important, given the likelihood that it won’t be long before all Missouri courts shift toward e-filing.

The Office of State Courts Administrator launched a pilot e-filing system with the Missouri Supreme Court Sept. 1, with St. Charles County following suit Sept. 12, said Catherine Zacharias, legal counsel for courts administrator office.

Eventually, the goal is for e-filing to be used statewide for all types of cases, she said.
Missouri’s three districts of the Court of Appeals – the Eastern District in St. Louis, the Western District in Kansas City and the Southern District in Springfield – are tentatively set for e-filing by midyear, but a timeline for statewide rollout hasn’t yet been determined, Zacharias said.

“We want to see how the project is progressing. It also takes resources to train staff (and) to implement,” she added, pointing to costs for equipment upgrades.

Crista Hogan, executive director of the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, said the bar’s role is focused on getting information out to its members, and the organization didn’t have an official say on whether the 31st circuit began e-filing. She noted, however, that the bar supported the move, which was likely taken into account by the courts. Hogan said past experience, with implementation of the Justice Information System, illustrated that early involvement in technological changes is a good idea.

“It’s probably going to be beneficial not to have been the very first group to try the pilot, but somewhere in the front part of the pack,” Hogan said.

The benefits of early involvement are one reason why the court en banc – which makes official decisions for the courts – opted to go ahead and start switching to e-files.

“The court en banc, I believe, is very committed to making sure we’re one of the leading courts as far as getting in on e-filing,” Helms said.

“The reason we want to be in on the beginning rather than at the end, like we were with JIS, is because we want to have some influence and impact on how that system is developed and refined.”

Helms said that when statewide rollout begins, the courts administrator office will look at what courts have done to prepare for e-filing.

“The more cases that you’ve got scanned, the more capabilities you have to scan files and how your court can handle electronic processes is going to play into that,” Helms said.

Increased efficiencies
Though Zacharias said efficiency, and getting cases into information systems more quickly, is propelling the shift toward electronic documentation and e-filing, Helms said there are other reasons it makes sense, including monetary savings and an opportunity to boost employee productivity.

“We don’t have, in Greene County, a whole lot of discretionary money to build buildings and do other things that paper files cost. We spend about $40,000 a year on just the files and the labels for the files,” said Helms, noting that the 10,000 square feet recently added to the Greene County Archives building is already nearly full.

While Helms’ staff is engaged in scanning documents for eligible cases filed in 2012, he said the state has provided $15,000, to support one full-time and one-part time position to scan pending circuit civil cases – those filed prior to 2012 but not yet concluded  – in the next several months. He said those staffers are starting with the latest-filed cases in 2011 and working back from there.

“The circuit clerk’s office is pretty much full of files, so we’ve got to push out files,” Helms said. “They’ve got to go somewhere.”[[In-content Ad]]

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