The digital courthouse: why clerks of court are modernizing document management

In March 2019, a court order signed by three Clark County, Ohio judges was issued to clerk of court Melissa Tuttle. The order claimed that the clerk had been keeping off-site court records in a state of disarray. According to the report:

The organization of the files could not be readily ascertained at the time of the inspection. Some boxes contained notation of files in a stated sequence. Other boxes included notation for files that spanned several years but which were not returned to boxes that had sequential notations. Several boxes were of a size that required more than one person to move them. Each storage unit contained files for various years and case types. The placement of the files in each unit appeared to be random, for the organization of the files could not be readily ascertained.

The beleaguered clerk explained that she intended to reorganize the storage unit to bring it into better order.

“I’ve been spending so much time here at the courthouse trying to modernize this office,” Tuttle told Springfield News-Sun, “…the off-site files are something I’d like to get to in the summer — when we have nice weather — to reorganize it.”

It’s hard to imagine in 2019 that sensitive court documents are still being warehoused in storage units. In boxes. In the real world. It’s difficult to conceive of a document management crisis that requires good weather as a prerequisite for the solution. However, the Clark County conundrum highlights the value of the digital courthouse and why so many local and state court systems are modernizing their content management.

Organization of files could not easily be determined at time of inspection

One of the most immediate advantages of a modern file management system is organizational efficiency. Unlike a physical warehouse, the information architecture of a virtual warehouse is necessarily logical and, in most cases, intuitive. This simplifies and streamlines filing, accessing, and sharing information. Judges can review files on their laptops in the courtroom, and lawyers as well as the public can view records securely from courthouse computers.

Some boxes contained notation of files in a stated sequence. Other boxes included notation for files that spanned several years but which were not returned to boxes that had sequential notations.

While physical reports are easy to misplace or lose, digital documents are tagged with metadata and secured with permissions that protect them from human carelessness. Historical data about files, including updates and handling, make it possible to track assets in real time, an impossible feat when it comes to slips of paper.

Several storage boxes required more than one person to move

Data is weightless, and it doesn’t take up space on its own. It’s only when data gets mired in paper filings that it begins to make demands on space requirements. As clerks modernize their digital management systems, they clear up usable space in courthouses. When the Summit County Utah court system went digital, two obsolete storage rooms were transformed into a new courtroom.

Each storage unit contained files for various years and case types. The placement of the files in each unit appeared to be random because the organization of the files could not readily be determined.

Digital content management is built on logic-based architectural requirements and protected by custom digital permissions. This ensures that files are always where they belong no matter who files them. Filing court records electronically simplifies processes for staffers and attorneys while enhancing usability and accessibility. When courts improve the efficiency of their systems through electronic management, they save money. A 2009 study in Manatee County, Florida revealed that e-filing saved the county nearly $1 million.

How to modernize courthouses and grease the wheels of justice

Justice is intimately linked to bureaucracy in a democratic country. The agencies that uphold justice grind to a halt when administrative responsibilities are mishandled. Courthouses that continue to operate using outdated document management paradigms create obstacles for the judges, attorneys, and staff that make justice work.

On the other hand, courthouses that work to modernize their document management processes offer more than streamlined justice. They eliminate confusion, improve operational efficiency, and save money. Contact Antares today to learn how we can help courts and governments modernize their workflows and document management.