Morrow County Municipal Court uses new tech to cut costs
By Taylor Kaser -
Morrow County’s Municipal Court is setting itself apart from courts around the country. By utilizing new technology, the court is quickly reaching its goal in basically functioning paperless.
Judge Lee McClelland explained that his court is one of a handful of courts operating on Mac hardware programs — most operate on a Windows platform.
A long time Mac enthusiast, McClelland said Macs were first used for bookkeeping in the office. During the 80s, a data base was later set up to manage and track cases as well. Instruction and operation is more easily learned on Macs, he noted.
A friend, who was also a retired electrical engineer, helped with improving the system by upgrading the Helix software to the File Maker data base program. Those advances allowed the court to begin keeping track of cases electronically.
“We wanted to get rid of paper and go to computerized records, so I can call up any record from any case [on his office computer],” explained McClelland, “I can actually dispose of cases right here.”
The court handles approximately 10,000 cases every year.
Since those initial improvements, the system has been continually upgraded with added features. Eric Bush was later brought in as a consultant almost a year ago.
“We have the criminal side almost where we want it,” McClelland said, ”we went live with it November of 2011. We’ve been keeping all of our cases on it since that time, plus scanning in old files. So eventually we’ll have the last five years on, and then 10 years on. Everything will be computerized.”
Just recently he said that all the accounting, reports to the Supreme Court, and the auditor’s office are on the computer, saving the clerks time. He described it as “beta testing” right now. An accountant who was consulted on the system suggested some improvements. Those revisions are currently being made to the system.
“Pretty soon we’ll have all of our bookkeeping, cases, trial assignments and motion hearings handled electronically.” he said. When possible, like with attorneys, the court is sending notices by email rather than through the mail, saving on paper and postage. Eventually a form will be available for those who wish to be contacted by email.
McClelland looks forward to more trial related business. Instead of physical paperwork, the Prosecutor and defendant’s attorneys will be able to submit information electronically, straight to the court. Court dockets and jury selection is also handled electronically.
Though operating on a different system, he said that there are no issues with communicating information with other offices in the courthouse.
From a convenience and efficiency standpoint, the changes are positive, but they’re also beneficial from a financial perspective as well, McClelland explained.
He described the court as being in a “pinch” with the option to either go electronic or hire new employees. The court receives new mandates from the state every year, he explained, without any assistance to offset the cost of implementing those new requirements. By investing in technology, McClelland explained that he can negate the higher costs associated with hiring new employees.
In the future he would also like to purchase hand held scanners for the local police to use. An officer would be able to scan a license into the machine and print out the physical ticket for the defendant, while electronically sending a copy of the ticket to court simultaneously.
Under the current system, tickets must be written out by hand by the officer then the physical ticket is brought into the court where it then has to be copied and retyped into the system.
The new system would save costs, and cut down on the number of mistakes that are always attached to retyping information multiple times, noted McClelland.
A fact that can be appreciated by everyone in the county is that the court’s modernization is being accomplished entirely without tax payer money. McClelland explained that monies for the updates come from the costs and fees issued by the court, and so is essentially “user funded.”