Electronic court documents come to Mower sooner than expectedPublished 10:49am Friday, January 10, 2014
When Judge Donald Rysavy needed to sign court documents last week in his office of the Mower County Jail and Justice Center, he didn’t reach for a pen. He pressed his index finger onto a fingerprint reader and signed in.
Immediately after, all parties involved had access to the complaint: the prosecutor, local and state court administration, and the defendant.
“All that information immediately becomes available to everyone else who’s in the MNCIS [Minnesota Court Information System],” Rysavy said.
It’s a sign the plan to transition to paperless courts is coming sooner than expected in Mower County.
In spring of 2012, the Minnesota Judicial Council announced plans to require all courts to go paperless in about five years. But Mower County court administration officials started scanning documents into the Minnesota Court Information System, or MNCIS, last summer, far sooner than expected.
“It’s worked well,” said Rysavy, who has served on the steering committee for eCourtMN.
Now, all the documents coming into the court system are scanned and entered into the MNCIS database, something that can be labor intensive in court administration. The next big step is to implement electronic-filing, where attorneys and everyone involved e-files court documents, so everything automatically goes into the system.
“The final step is a true paperless step where everything has already been scanned into the system, and you are now working from the bench as a judge without any paper at all,” Rysavy said.
After working with eight pilot counties — none in the Third Judicial District — state officials started favoring a plan to roll out e-filing in the entire state at once, rather than the prior phased approach. According to Rysavy, e-filing could begin in Mower County as soon as August, but the date could change.
E-filing will eliminate a lot of data entry steps, which would save time for court administration employees. Once e-filing is implemented, court administration workers will still be responsible for some filing work, but it should be much less, Rysavy noted.
At its base, eCourtMN is more about improving access and eliminating data entry, according to Rysavy.
The MNCIS system is intended to be shared among many different users, with judges, law enforcement, attorneys and the public all having varying levels of access to court documents. Some information is confidential. For example, only the judges can access their personal notes.
“I think it’s going to be a great boon to court administration and the people who are working in the justice system because of access and court administration eliminating a lot of unnecessary paper work,” Rysavy said. “For judges, you’ve got a finite situation: You’re dealing with people.”
The paperless approach will not necessarily improve the speed of cases, according to Rysavy.
“The fact that you’re looking at it on a computer as opposed to a piece of paper doesn’t help you deal with that person any faster than you were before,” he said. “If anything, it might be a little bit of a slowdown.”
In fact, Rysavy admitted he still finds some of electronic documents a bit cumbersome, as it’s difficult to view multiple documents at the same time even with two screens, but he has adjusted.
“Clearly it’s going to happen, and it’s something that we’ll adjust to,” he said.