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Courts go paperless

By Staff | Mar 24, 2013

He admits to not being a “young techi guy” and may have been apprehensive of technological changes being made in the judicial system.

Yet, Faribault County District Court Judge Douglas Richards has learned to embrace them.

“I’m getting use to it everyday. It’s the way of the future, like it or not,” says Richards. “In my chambers I don’t ask for files anymore.”

“Before it was pulling files and taking files back, and then pulling more files,” he adds.

His comments came during the Fifth Judicial District’s quarterly meeting held Wednesday at the courthouse in Blue Earth.

For nearly one hour, Richards gave a power-point presentation on eCourtMN.

After more than 150 years of filing paper in order to function, the state’s court system has found a better, faster and more efficient way of doing business.

“Our county attorney’s office doesn’t file anything by paper anymore, it’s all done electronically,” says Richards, chief judge of the Fifth District.

“We’re also the first courtroom in the Fifth District that’s Wi-Fi,” he adds.

Fourteen of the district’s 16 judges, two state appealate judges, court administrators, defense attorneys and prosecutors gathered in the courtroom.

They sat, listened and some asked questions.

Richards covered such topics as e-filing of court documents, imaging of paper court records, e-citations and e-charging in criminal cases.

“It’s been a time-saver for court administration and has significantly reduced filing processing time,” he says.

Faribault County is one of nine counties that was picked last year to pilot the new program.

Court Administrator Vicky Driscoll and Richards submitted an application and the county was one of three smaller ones selected.

“It’s going pretty good and working well. There are still some things we’re learning,” says Driscoll. “We’re still juggling both worlds – the electronic files and the old system.” She says a copy of the e-filing must still be printed for the public to see because they do not have access to it by computer at this time.

Chris Senne, a technical support specialist for the Fifth District, has helped the county make the transition.

For the past several months, he’s spent at least one day a week installing the hardware and software that’s required.

“It’s been a challenge. It’s not as easy in older courthouses like this one,” he says.

Sitting at the bench, Richards uses a touch-screen monitor projected on a large screen to show how he accesses a case file when a defendant appears in court.

“It’s pretty slick. It’s not always as fast as you like it to be. That’s when you tell jokes,” quips Richards.

One of the benefits, says Richards, is that court hearings can still be held when he’s not available. He explained that judges in Blue Earth County recently heard cases for him by accessing the files electronically.

All of the court cases -civil, family, criminal, probate and juvenile – can now be e-filed in the county.

Richards says state court officials must still decide how much material of old files should be transferred to the new system. Also, different types of hardware and software are still being tested.

By the end of this month, 11 counties will be fully utilizing e-filing and document imaging.

However, it’s expected to take several years before all the state’s 87 counties are switched to the new system.

“We’re all happy where we’re at. It’s been a slow process, but that’s OK. We need to make sure the system is solid and works before it goes statewide,” says Richards.

In the summer, officials of the state judicial branch plan to hold intensive training for county officials.

“E-University starts in July and the colors have been determined to be black and blue,” says Richards, which drew a chorus of laughter.