E-filing system leads to hires

GREENFIELD — Taxpayers will foot the bill for two additional county employees to handle a state-mandated electronic filing system originally touted as a measure to save both time and paper.

Hancock County is preparing to hire one full-time and one part-time employee in the prosecutor’s office to help navigate the change in the court record system, which aims to make court records easily accessible to Hoosiers.

Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore also is expected to approach the council about funding an extra position in her office to accommodate the change.

The process of switching to electronic filing — paper records are currently dropped off at the county clerk’s office — launches in July and is expected to add steps to the process of submitting court records.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton said all charging documents must be computer-generated once the switch goes into effect. His employees will have to scan reports submitted by police officers, navigate a state computer program to assign charges to a defendant and send the information digitally to the clerk without any hiccups — all before hearings begin at 8:30 each morning.

Eaton said he needs more hands to ensure the switch goes smoothly, and he approached the Hancock County Council recently to plead for money to hire new staffers and to purchase a dozen new scanners needed to properly file court documents by July.

The prosecutor’s office receives dozens of reports each week from police, alleging a person has committed a crime. Officers deliver those papers in person, and prosecutors review them before assigning criminal charges to each defendant’s case and walking the documents across the street to the clerk’s office in the Hancock County Courthouse, where the pages are stamped by a clerk and sent to a judge, Eaton said.

Starting in July, the reports from police will have to be scanned into a computer, and charges will be assigned to a defendant using an online program created by the state, Eaton said. These extra steps must be completed first thing in the morning in order to prepare for the day’s docket; some employees already come into the office as early as 6:30 a.m., he said.

Having the extra set of hands will help the office through the transition and ensure court proceedings run smoothly, Eaton said.

Annually, the salaries for the two new employees will be $70,000 combined.

Ultimately, the switch to e-filing will provide the public with free access to an online database of Indiana court records. A record of court filings and hearings is already available online; now, residents will be able to pull the supporting documents as well.

The move is expected to ultimately save prosecutors the time it take to make trips to the clerk’s office and eventually cut out police officers’ trips to the prosecutor’s office, putting them on back to their patrols more quickly, officials said.

By early 2017, the clerk’s office will offer the so-called “e-filing” program for all court proceedings, both criminal and civil. By 2018, all 92 Indiana counties must switch to the program, and the database will offer court records for proceedings across the state.

Nearby Henry County has already started preparing for the switch to e-filing, local attorney and county councilman Randy Sorrell said. He gets emails related to cases he’s working on in Henry County on the weekends, he said, as employees in Henry County offices prepare for the rollout of the database.

E-filing is expected to be more efficient but preparing the change is taking up much of employees’ work weeks and some of their weekends, Sorrell said.

“There’s a change in the workflow,” he said. “I’m getting court notices on Sundays.”

County officials said state-mandated efforts, like e-filing, can be frustrating for leaders at the local level. While such initiatives penned with good intentions, they sometimes have negative ramifications for taxpayers, Commissioner Brad Armstrong said.

“They do things because they believe it will be more efficient, but it always ends up being costly,” he said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.