Public gaining online access to courts

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T01:04:15Z Public gaining online access to courtsBy Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

The push for electronic access to government services is stronger than ever, and big gains are being made in the courts.

This is translating into greater efficiency at the county level, while providing the public with free and easy access to details about cases.

Porter County jumped fully into the statewide Odyssey Case Management System in September, according to Porter County Clerk Karen Martin.

The county began the process two years earlier by placing traffic infractions and ordinance violations into the system, which reduced the workload in the busy clerk's office enough to allow employees to be shifted to other areas of need, she said.

The county then went live in the fall with the balance of its criminal and civil court cases.

"It's much easier to maneuver through," Martin said.

There was an initial learning curve that resulted in some difficulties among staff, Martin said. But after a few weeks, the new system was learned and has resulted in greater efficiency and streamlining in the office.

One example of this efficiency is the use of bar codes on the labels that are affixed to the front of each civil and criminal file, Martin said. Staff now use a bar scanner to read those codes, which eliminates the need to input information by hand while working with a folder.

Martin said the system also provides convenience to the public, who can check on the status of a case without having to travel to the courthouse.

"Accessibility to the public is phenomenal," she said.

The Odyssey Case Management System is a state-funded effort to bring uniformity to case management systems across Indiana, according to Mary DePrez, director of the Indiana Supreme Court's Judicial Technology and Automation Committee, which is overseeing the project.

The Odyssey Case Management System brings files together from various counties and provides not only free public access, but also links them with one another and with state agencies, she has said.

DePrez said 48 of the state's 92 counties already have some presence in the system, including LaPorte County. Discussion is underway with Lake County.

Lake County is currently operating its own on-line court docket system, said Marilyn Hrnjak, executive chief deputy in the Lake County clerk's office.

The system has increased efficiency, in part, by cutting down on the number of inquiries from the public, who now has access to the information on its own, she said.

"It seems to be, in my opinion, running quite smoothly," Hrnjak said.

While the Odyssey system provides online access to details of case activity, it does not yet offer an option for the public to look at scanned copies of the filed documents, DePrez said.

The vendor that provided the current system has another in the works that could one day be used if counties wish to make copies of documents available, she said. There are several issues that first must be worked out, she said, including how to handle the cost of storing all the information and what are the local hardware needs.

Franklin County became the first in the state in December to scan documents, DePrez said. But those copies are currently available for internal use alone.

The Odyssey system is funded from the automated record-keeping fee, which is one of the fees charged when a case is filed, she said.

The Odyssey Case Management System can be reached online at www.mycase.in.gov, Martin said.

The Lake County system is available at www.lakecountyin.org/portal/user/anon/page/online-docket-welcome.

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