Porter County Courthouse

The Porter County Courthouse in downtown Valparaiso.

Doug Ross, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — A quiet revolution is transforming Indiana's judicial system as new technology replaces the mountains of paper documents that previously filled courthouses across the state.

Over the past 15 months, courts in 55 of the state's 92 counties, as well as Indiana's appellate division, have adopted mandatory electronic filing for most new criminal and civil lawsuits, and subsequent case-related paperwork.

In Northwest Indiana, e-filing is required in Porter County, LaPorte County, Newton County and Jasper County courts. It's anticipated that Lake County, and all the remaining counties, will begin accepting e-filed documents in 2018.

Already more than 2.1 million documents have been e-filed statewide since July 1, 2016, according to data compiled by the Supreme Court's Office of Court Technology.

"It's a few million boxes and it's hundreds of millions of pages," said Justice Steven David, who is leading the high court's technology efforts.

"That all has a cost to create, to copy, to distribute, to inadvertently miss a copy here or there, to store and for how long," David said. "In addition, whether you're a trial court judge or an attorney or party, that translates to money."

Exactly how much money is being saved has yet to be determined. But David said e-filing also is making judges and lawyers more efficient, while improving court services for Hoosiers.

For example, he said enabling trial court judges to access documents at home on their laptop computers, review litigant filings as soon as they come in and sign routine orders, perhaps even on weekends, saves minutes here and there that add up significantly over time.

David pointed out that lawyers don't have to dispatch someone to the courthouse to file every single document in person. They also no longer need to lug boxes of documents from their offices to the courthouse and back every day during trials.

In addition, non-confidential court documents are available online at mycase.in.gov for Hoosiers to review at their leisure.

State records show the website was visited 12.2 million times during the 2017 budget year.

"Indiana is one of the leading states in moving to the 21st century, in the 21st century — imagine that!" David said.

Justice Mark Massa said one reason e-filing has been adopted so quickly in Indiana is because two-thirds of the state's counties, including Porter, LaPorte and Jasper, use the same case management system: Odyssey.

"It's the best deal for counties," Massa said. "It carries with it state funding of that technology and that support, and we're getting closer and closer to that complete statewide coverage with each passing year."

Lake County reportedly is planning to make the switch to Odyssey sometime next year.

The system is funded through a $20 automated recordkeeping fee assessed on each case filed in every Indiana court.

David said beyond e-filing, another benefit of a unified case management system is the judicial branch being able to generate comprehensive data about crimes, courts, dispositions, children in need of services, protection orders and other information that the legislative and executive branches need when enacting new laws.

"In the old days, you might get data from one court and try to extrapolate, or determine if that court is representative of the rest of the state or not, and that's no longer the case," he said.

"You're seeing partnerships and collaborations in Indiana that you don't see in many states."

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.