Circuit clerks look forward to working with Supreme Court's e-business committee

Amelia Flood Jun. 16, 2011, 8:52am


E-filing and other electronic business are matters of day-to-day routine in the Third and Twentieth Judicial Circuits.

However, both Madison County Deputy Circuit Clerk Judy Nelson and St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Kahalah Dixon said their offices are looking forward to working with the newly formed E-Business Committee of the Illinois State Supreme Court.

Illinois State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride announced the formation of the high court's e-business committee last week.

The purpose of the committee is to study and implement more new technologies into the Illinois court system.

The committee will have its first meeting later this month and will work with a committee drawn from the Illinois Association of Court Clerks (IACC.)

Madison County has been selected to take part in the IACC's e-business committee that will work with its high court counterpart.

The Supreme Court committee itself will be made up of representatives from the Supreme Court, Illinois Attorney General's Office, and members of the state's legal community drawn from all over Illinois.

Madison and St. Clair Counties both have pilot programs utilizing e-filing software to automate court business.

St. Clair County's program is the newest of the pilots taking place throughout the state and the Twentieth Circuit has also begun scanning documents from case files as part of the program.

Madison County's program is older, having started just after the first e-filing program in the state nearly six years ago.

DuPage County started the first e-filing program in 2005.

While Madison County allows e-filing of all cases, St. Clair County currently only e-files chancery cases like foreclosures.

In an interview with the Madison County Record Wednesday, Dixon said that will soon change.

"There has been a lot of interest in expanding," Dixon said.

The Twentieth Circuit will begin to allow the e-filing of civil and arbitration cases within weeks, she said.

Dixon cited the ease with which St. Clair County has adapted to e-filing chancery cases and the popularity of doing so.

She praised the accuracy and time-saving nature of the e-filing software.

"I see it making our office more efficient and more user-friendly," she said.

St. Clair County had 94 chancery cases filed in the last 90 days.
It began the program last year.

Dixon looks forward to working with the e-business committee and to seeing more technology up and running in the state's courts.

"I would love to help in any way I can," she said.

Dixon said that the expansion of technology in circuit clerk's office could mean a manpower issue in the future but she said that should it happen, her office would be ready to explore ways to address it.

However, Dixon said she fully understands why the Supreme Court takes new technological initiatives slowly.

"I do completely understand the Supreme Court and AOIC [Administrative Office of the Illinois Supreme Court]'s caution about letting clerks expand [technology,]" she said. "Better to be safe than sorry, that's for sure."

Madison County has one of the first e-filing programs approved by the Supreme Court and one of the largest.

Nelson said she would like to see the e-business committee tackle issues such as the elimination of paper and e-citations in traffic cases in its quest to streamline the courts.

"Of all the media, paper is the most vulnerable," Nelson said in an interview with the Record Thursday. "If there's a flood, we can retrieve the [digital] images. If there's a fire, we can retrieve the images."

Nelson noted that processing redundant paper copies of e-filed cases eats into court resources and creates logistical issues in terms of storage.

A single family or asbestos case file, for example, can run for decades, meaning a lot of paper work is generated.

Nelson pointed to the county's heavy asbestos docket and the logistical problem it presents when case files only take the form of hard copy.

"We'd have to pull all those things," Nelson said of a typical docket day. "We'd have carts and carts for every one of those dockets."

Nelson noted that because of the circuit's emphasis on e-filing and scanning case documents, there is no need to drag out hundreds of hard copy case files and take them to Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder's courtroom for the hearing.

"She can pull it all up on her screen," Nelson explained. "She's not dealing with all these piles of paper. It really is a win-win situation."

Nelson noted, however, that moving beyond paper records will take time.

"Paper in the court world is still paramount to a lot of people who determine the future of e-business," Nelson said.

The Third Judicial Circuit is gearing up for a future e-citations program for traffic cases, one of the areas Nelson would like to see the e-business committee tackle.

The Madison County Circuit Clerk's office has a signed contract for software to run the program.

It would, Nelson explained, make the upwards of 65,000 traffic cases Madison County might see in a year, virtually paperless.

The software would allow police officers to directly input traffic ticket data into a system that would link directly to the clerk's office. The clerk's office, upon receiving the data, would then be able to instantly start managing the case.

But again, paper becomes an issue, Nelson said.

The hang-up on starting an e-citations program comes in the form of the paper ticket that begins all traffic cases.

Nelson, though, is hopeful about the future of e-business in the state's courts and what the e-business committee may achieve.

"I really hope so because there are a lot of initiatives and opportunities to automate and streamline," Nelson said.

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