The “paperless office” is a bit like the weather, everybody talks about it but no one seems to do anything about it. Well, Thurston County Courts are following in the direction of the County Clerk’s office and Prosecutor’s office and something is being done. In fact, District Court is planning to primarily use electronic documents by early next year. Superior Court, along with District Court, will pilot electronic forms in certain high volume criminal calendars in 2013. With the success of the electronic forms, Superior Court will explore using electronic forms for high volume Family Law calendars.
There are several reasons for making this change including convenience, resource conservation, increased access to documents and the move to more video court appearances. The opening of the Accountability and Restitution Center will also make the use of electronic documents a more practical solution to the distance between defendant and counsel and the prosecuting attorney and the court.
A bit of background may provide some context for the move to electronic documents. The Thurston County Clerk’s Office has been working for more than thirteen years toward paperless filings. Papers brought in to the office are scanned in and can then be sent electronically to judges and others involved in a particular case. Clerk Betty Gould says “It has always been my goal to transition to a ‘Paper on Demand’ court and I feel that we are well on our way. The Clerk’s office has moved the process forward by providing online access to purchase and file documents online. Also, a number of attorneys have made the decision to purchase a license to access Superior Court documents from their offices. ”. District Court Judges are now using computers on the bench to access case information from the state Judicial Information System. The Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office began imaging its files in 2007, and no longer uses paper files in Juvenile or District Court. The Superior Court teams are preparing to transition to paperless files in the near future.
District Court officials brought in representatives from the National Center for State Courts last March to review policies and procedures and to recommend appropriate changes. One of the ideas behind the review was to ensure that the court was utilizing the best practices before converting to electronic document use.
How the System Would Work-
The Thurston County Prosecutor, Office of Assigned Counsel, Superior and District Courts will use a software program called “LincDocs” as the method of transferring legal papers from one computer to another. This secure program will allow sharing of legal documents prior to and during, court proceedings. For the electronic storage of the final papers in any given case, Superior Court will use the “Liberty” software program operated by the Thurston County Clerk’s Office. In District Court, the “Laserfiche” program will be used for storage of final documents. This program has a “public access module” that is scheduled to be made available sometime in the near future.
It is important to note that to access District Court documents; you will not be required to purchase new equipment and licenses. District Court Administrator Theresa Ewing says the change to electronic documents should make life easier for most attorneys. “Frequently used documents will be available in PDF format from the courts web-site and eventually, they will be able to access court case files from a computer in their office. Among other benefits, lawyers will not have to go to the courthouse to review documents. The hope is to actually become more accessible and therefore more user friendly for all users of the courts in Thurston County.”
Attorneys who do not use a computer or who have challenges with the use of electronic documents will not be left outside looking in. Various methods will be made available to ensure continued use of paper documents in these cases.
Input and Training-
The goal is to implement the first level of electronic document use in the courts by the end of January of 2013. With that in mind, now is the time to let us know of any questions and concerns you might have. You can impact policies and procedures around paperless courts so the transition is as smooth as possible and the outcome is beneficial to you and the courts.
We plan to offer training classes in the not too distant future and we will also make many of the “blank” documents available on the web.
While this change to electronic documents in the courts will have no impact on the weather, it WILL impact you and everyone else involved in the law and justice system in Thurston County.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
District Court Administrator: Theresa Ewing, 360-786-5225
Superior Court Administrator: Marti Maxwell, 360-786-5559
Thurston County Clerk’s Office: Betty J. Gould, 360-786-5549
Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office: Andrew Toynbee, 360-786-5540 ext.6245