Courts look at making their way in the e-world

Published 9:08 am Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Minnesota’s court houses are taking a necessary but daunting leap into the 21st Century.

The Minnesota Judicial Council is requiring all courts to go paperless in about five years. Though the conversion will be a hefty task, 3rd Judicial District Judge Donald Rysavy said the move is positive and necessary.

“There’s not much question that the whole world — business, government, everyone — is going further and further into the electronic aspect,” Rysavy said. “If the judiciary gets left behind, the efficiencies go way, way down.”

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Rysavy, who’s served on the steering committee for eCourtMN, said Minnesota will be one of the first to conduct a statewide upgrade.

While storage space for paper documents is a concern in some counties, the real advantage is to be up-to-date with the private sector.

The public will benefit from the change, as more information will be easily accessible.

“I don’t think there’s any question that the general public is going to have much greater access to the workings of the court system and the contents of files and all the rest of those things,” he said.

Court employees will have to scan all current documents for electronic access, a step that will be highly labor intensive, according to Rysavy. They’ll then have to coordinate the change with non-court users, like the general public and justice partners: county attorneys, law enforcement and private attorneys. The private sector will be the more challenging side, he noted.

Rysavy said local and state taxpayers shouldn’t feel the brunt of the costs. Much of the funding for the conversion will come from the federal 4-D program — money the federal courts reimburse to the state courts for enforcing federal responsibilities. However, Rysavy noted he has concerns about whether that would be a permanent funding stream.

The conversion is still in the early stages. Within the next year, three to six counties — likely none in the 3rd Judicial District — will pilot the image scanning phase. As those counties shift into filing new documents and teaching attorneys and law enforcement, the next group of counties will begin the imaging phase. With the staggered approach, Rysavy said, the hope is the bugs will be worked out of the system by the time the bulk of the counties come online.

For Mower County, Rysavy said, it will take a minimum of two to three years before courts are eliminating stored paper documents.

More technology won’t address what Rysavy described as a people issue in the number of court employees. In other words, the move isn’t likely to drastically speed up business at courthouses.

“A trial is still going to take two weeks if it was going to take two weeks before,” Rysavy said.