Case closed: Delaware courts use e-files

'There will always be paperwork. But we minimize it. Having information online is a godsend.'

'Court Administrator Art Bernardino

Terence Roberts

For court administrator Art Bernardino, Delaware Superior Court's move to electronic criminal records has been a long time coming.

'People have been talking about the vision of paperless courts since 1974, when I first became involved in courts administration,' Bernardino said.

In 1991, Delaware became the first state to use an electronic-docketing and e-filing system for civil cases, a service now outsourced to the Lexis-Nexis Group. Now, the state may become the first to offer statewide criminal court e-filing as well.

'The court needed to get out of the paper-shuffling business,' Bernardino said. 'If one person had part of a case file or the entire case file, it precluded other people from looking up that information.'

Courts have always pushed a lot of paper, and anyone who wants to review documents must travel to the courthouse.

Using an electronic system, documents can be shared within the courts, as well as via an intranet by the offices of the prosecuting attorneys and public defenders, Bernardino said.

The county first branched into criminal court e-filing in May 2003, when a pilot overseen by Bernardino went live, serving the Delaware Kent County Courthouse.

Bernardino's chief concern was laying the foundation for an integrated system. Initially, the county would have to build a repository of records scanned in from paper sources. The new system would also automate workflow, so that when new documents appeared in the system they would be logged and entered into the case. Eventually, all filing will be done electronically.

'The first phase is imaging. The second phase is electronic filing,' Bernardino said. The court is now working on a project to let legal teams input information directly into the system, eliminating the need for clerks to rekey information from paper forms.

Intranet-friendly

To scan, index and route the documents, the state chose the ZyImage document imaging system from ZyLAB North America LLC of McLean, Va. The software cost approximately $56,000.

'ZyLAB had a system that would allow for information to be posted to the intranet,' Bernardino said. ZyLAB's software extracts search keywords directly from paper documents as they are scanned in.

The Kent County system, tested successfully, is being expanded to Delaware's other two counties through a second $101,000 grant.

Court records will be made available to outside offices via a Web portal. The statewide system will go live in April.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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