Florida county puts court records on screen
Florida county puts court records on screen
By Claire E. House
Charlotte County, Fla., has launched a sophisticated Web-accessible system of imaged court records and data that the county clerk envisioned long before it was feasible.
|Charlotte County uses Web for versatile records searches|
Criminal searches by:
Sheriff ID number
Arrest incident number
Offender tracking number
Arrest or release date
First appearance date
Criminal court schedules by:
Civil searches by:
Traffic infractions by:
Traffic court info by:
Florida uniform case numbers
Official records by:
Page and book number
'In my second term, when we were getting into technology, I said that one day we'll have a screen that looks like a TV screen' and you will be able to key in your name and see what's been filed in every single court and look up official legal documents,' county clerk of the Circuit Court Barbara T. Scott said.
That was back in the late 1980s. Now in her fourth term, Scott realized her vision last March when her office launched the password-protected beta Web window to the county's integrated Court Automated System, or CAS. Users reach the records through the county site, at www.co.charlotte.fl.us
The site pulls from a data matrix that allows advanced searching via various criteria. It presents'in a multiple-window virtual file'one person's data and records from up to 35 agencies.
'What makes our system really effective is we tie everything together by name,' said Laurel Jiminez, MIS director for court automated systems.
Users can pull up a person's records and click through his or her criminal, traffic and civil history to view case activity data, accompanying documents, court scheduling data, photos and an array of other information. Official records such as property documents also tie in to the virtual file.
Scott began setting the stage five years ago, when she called on consultant Ron Mayberry, president of Mayberry Products Inc. of Bradenton, Fla., and her own management information systems staff to integrate county systems.
The resulting CAS network holds 500G of data, images and imaged documents in three systems: the Criminal Justice Information System, the Circuit Civil System and the Official Records System.
The 1-Gbps network runs Novell NetWare 4.2 over Category 5 cable through Catalyst 2948 gigabit switches from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.
Charlotte County's Court Automated Network ties all official records together by name for comprehensive Web access.
Data and TIFF images reside in the following database programs: Btrieve from Pervasive Software Inc. of Austin, Texas; Informix from Informix Software Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif.; and SQL Server from Microsoft Corp.On the record
A CAS holds criminal and traffic files in a 400-MHz Compaq 5500 server with 1G of RAM and 108G of redundant, fault-tolerant RAID storage, running Microsoft Windows NT 4.0. Civil files have the same setup.
Official Records System files are on a 200-MHz NCR 4300 from NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, with 1G of RAM and 90G of Symbios RAID from LSI Logic Corp. of Milpitas, Calif. The server runs MP-RAS, NCR's flavor of Unix.
Mayberry wrote the Web front end in Magic Enterprise Edition 8.3 from Magic Software Enterprises Inc. of Irvine, Calif. A 350-MHz Compaq 800 with 500M of RAM and 27G of RAID storage hosts the Magic application. Users must access the system via Microsoft Explorer 4.0 or higher for optimized viewing.
The clerk's office first filled the names database in 1995 with driver's license data it bought from the state Motor Vehicles Department. Agencies add any unlisted names as they enter data and images.
The county holds data not only on traffic violators, arrested people and civil-action principals but also on criminal suspects, case witnesses, victims and missing persons'much of which is highly sensitive.
Florida court clerks are personally responsible for the custody and integrity of circuit and county court records, so security is paramount. Scott herself approves or denies access to the system on a person-by-person basis.Get the word
Approved users receive an identification number and password. Level and nature of access varies with each user in accordance with Florida statutes.
'It's basically the same thing they'd be able to get on paper,' she said.
Journalists and screening services, for example, can access any publicly open records. State attorneys might have access to all adult court files but only juvenile cases under their specific charges. Detectives typically have the highest level of access because they enter and access data about open investigations.
The Web system in October had 378 registered users and averaged 1,400 hits a day, Jiminez said. Although secure-records users in agencies will continue to have free system access, the county has begun charging for access to general public records via the Web.
High-volume users pay monthly subscriptions of $30 to $100, by check or credit card, based on volume. Occasional users pay a per-record fee, by online charge. Fees are not new'the county charges copying fees for paper copies as well, Jiminez said.
Scott's work has not gone unnoticed. The Florida Association of Court Clerks has named her Clerk of the Year both in 1999 and 1994, making her the first clerk in the award's more than 20-year history to receive the designation twice.
Next on the agenda is to make all county courtrooms paperless within five years, Scott said. To that end, she is working with several groups to help the Legislature forge a policy on using electronic signatures as an alternative to the physical signatures required on many court documents.
In the meantime, the county team is enabling electronic motion filing and setting up courtrooms so all county judges will have access to the system at their benches within a year, Jiminez said.