In about a year, the Sixth Judicial District – Linn and Johnson counties included – will be required to file its court documents electronically, and state officials this week are visiting local courthouses to notify members of the legal and law enforcement community of the coming change.
The tour also is giving officials with the State Judicial Branch a chance to make sure the district has the equipment it will need to make the shift to electronic filing.
“Because once this goes live, it will be required,” Brenda Case, information technology project manager for the judicial branch, said Wednesday after giving a presentation to judicial staff members, attorneys and law enforcement officers at the Johnson County Courthouse.
Case is scheduled to visit Linn County on Thursday to discuss the changes, which are aimed at largely eliminating paper in the judicial process in Iowa. Currently, law enforcement officers file paper complaints, attorneys file paper motions, judges issue paper rulings and it’s all kept in hard-copy files.
The same is true for civil cases, some real estate transactions and other types of proceedings that go through the judiciary.
Case told The Gazette that the number of judicial cases and filings in Iowa is increasing while tight budgets are prohibiting the judiciary from hiring more people. The move to electronic filing will allow the court system to do more work with fewer people, Case said.
The change also will save the courts in paper costs and attorneys in the cost and time it takes to deliver filings to the local courthouse. Electronic filing also is environmentally conscious, and it allows attorneys to file documents whenever they want –rather than just when the courthouse is open.
“People can work 24/7 if they want,” Case said.
Anyone who is a party to a case will get an email notification when something has been filed, potentially improving communication.
There will be exceptions to the requirement to file electronically for emergency situations, Case said, along with a way to get a waiver if, for example, a person doesn’t have access to a computer or a scanner.
But, she said, a judge will need to sign a waiver for ever paper filing.
“There are quite a few changes that are happening, but all the same people are here in the Clerk’s Office, and they all have phones,” Case said. “So pick up a phone and ask them if you have questions.”
Case told the Johnson County crowd Wednesday that, although there is no official “go live” date for electronic filing in the Sixth Judicial District, it’s on track right now to begin in late 2013 or early 2014. The roll-out likely will start in Linn County and then move to Johnson County.
The Judicial Branch already has rolled out electronic filing in 11 Iowa counties – including Story, Plymouth and Woodbury counties, which were the first test cases. Webster County is set to go live next week, and Pocahontas County is scheduled to start filing electronically on Nov. 6.
Case said it takes about two months to get over the transition hurdles, but the counties that have made the change are happy.
“No one wants to go back to paper, everyone is happy,” she said. “Just give it two months, and don’t panic.”