HANCOCK COUNTY — Local officials are embracing the arrival of an electronic filing system that they say will ultimately provide the public with free access to an online database of Indiana court records.
As part of a statewide push, the Hancock County clerk will begin accepting court documents submitted online by the county prosecutor’s office in late summer. In early 2017, the clerk’s office will offer the so-called “e-filing” program for all court proceedings, both criminal and civil, said Marcia Moore, Hancock County clerk.
Attorneys and paralegals eagerly await the arrival of the new system. Currently, all documents filed for court cases must be submitted in person at the county clerk’s office in Greenfield. With the new system, individuals will be able to submit documents remotely, sparing professionals a significant amount of time and effort, said local attorney Christopher Smith, who works at Davis and Smith in Greenfield.
The Indiana Supreme Court and Court of Appeals instituted e-filing in November. By the end of 2018, trial courts in all 92 counties are expected to begin offering the program, which is managed by the Judicial Branch of Indiana. Hamilton County was the first to offer e-filing, and six other counties are expected to follow in early 2016.
To transition to the new system, the county clerk’s office must upgrade its computer system to keep up with an anticipated increase in online activity from e-filing, Moore said, adding that she intends to apply for state grants to pay for equipment upgrades.
In 2015, the clerk’s office received about $47,000 through state grants to pay for scanners that will be used to scan documents for the new program, she said.
Moore doesn’t anticipate the shift to change the workload in the clerk’s office. Employees began scanning backup copies of all documents submitted to the office in 2015 as a precaution, she said, so the transition isn’t expected to add to their workload.
Once the program starts, attorneys will still have the option of filing paper versions of briefs and other court documents.
Shelli Poppino, director of operations for the Hancock County Prosecutor’s Office, said the new system will drastically reduce the amount of documents she has to manage.
For every court document Poppino receives, she or another staff member makes three copies: one for the defendant, one for the court and one for the office’s records.
Once the new system rolls out, she expects to see a reduction in paperwork, she said.
Still, the new program will come with a learning curve, Poppino said. The office will likely need to buy several scanners and train staff how to use them, she said.
“I think it’s going to be tough to transition at the beginning, but once we’re through that, I’m sure it’ll make things easier,” she said.
After all counties transition to the program, the general public will be able to access all public court records through an online database.
So when attorneys want to access court documents filed in a faraway Indiana county, they can simply log in online to do so, as opposed to the current practice of traveling to retrieve a hard copy of the file in person, Smith said.
The documents will be accessible at all times; currently, court cases have to be filed and retrieved during clerk office hours, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
That will remove a significant hurdle for attorneys, Smith said.
“To be able to acquire a document by pushing a few keystrokes, that could be tremendously beneficial,” he said.