Although both Arkansas’ supreme court and court of appeals have recently begun broadcasting—and archiving—live oral arguments on their Website, it is the courts’ use of enterprise content management (ECM) technology that has caught the Supreme Court’s eye.
“We’d had a document imaging system in place for several years, but it hadn’t been used much,” says Frederick. “Only a few techs even knew how to access it, and the search and retrieval capability for records wasn’t particularly useful. We had to ask ourselves, ‘Why scan anything if you can’t use the system?’”
He continues, “Our principal selection criteria for an ECM solution included the ability to manage content, automate processes, enable easy access to records and raise visibility for the legal community and the public.”
He notes that, ultimately, it was the unlimited servers included with Laserfiche Rio that won over the courts’ IT Department. “Both courts issue opinions of high interest that are heavily accessed, so we wanted to make sure we had failovers and test servers in place to accommodate that.”
Laserfiche Enables Electronic Opinions
In 2009, Arkansas became the first state to establish electronic reporting as the official medium for appellate court opinions. Substantial cost savings resulting from the transition provided the opportunity to implement Laserfiche.
“Before that, the appellate court opinions had always been officially reported in bound volumes,” says Frederick. “However, the volumes were produced and distributed approximately four times a year, which meant there was significant lag time between issuance of an opinion and its appearance in its official format.”
With declining subscription rates, higher production costs and advancing technology, the court determined that its current method of publication was no longer acceptable. “Although court systems in general have been slow to enter the digital age, we have to remember that we work for the public, and they’re used to finding information quickly on the Internet,” explains Frederick.
“One of the driving forces that led to the implementation of Laserfiche was to provide the official version of the opinions to everyone free of cost. The substantial savings realized by terminating the bound volume method was also a considerable advantage,” he says.
Using Laserfiche WebLink, a Web portal that provides instant, read-only access to documents over the Internet, the Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals publish their latest opinions in PDF format on their Website.
“Most court records and paper copies of opinions are retained indefinitely,” notes Frederick. “In addition, we are required by statute to keep three copies of each bound volume; the final published volume count was 375 when we made the transition. From that standpoint, the storage of electronic records is far more efficient.”
In terms of search and retrieval, “metadata is a gift,” Frederick says. The Reporter of Decisions established the courts’ file structure, templates and fields, which allow anyone to access the opinions using one or more of the following criteria:
Current Integrations, Future Plans
After enabling live video streaming by implementing a Granicus software solution, the court integrated it with Laserfiche to enable the public and legal community to access archived video footage along with a copy of the opinion tied to the case in question. “We’ve made great efforts to become more transparent,” says Frederick. “By integrating Granicus with Laserfiche, we’ve created a comprehensive digital public record that’s accessible to anyone over the Web.”
The court is currently working on integrating Laserfiche with its court management system (CMS) so that court personnel can access documents stored in Laserfiche when they’re viewing a particular case in the CMS.
Although the courts haven’t yet taken full advantage of Laserfiche Workflow, a business process management tool included with Laserfiche Rio, they may use Workflow to route drafts of their opinions to:
“Flow is a big buzzword right now, so knowing that we can use Laserfiche to automate more of our processes presents tremendous possibilities,” says Frederick.
Change Management Methodology for Curing “Parchment Disorder”
“One thing I’ve noticed after working in IT across a variety of industries is that the public sector is a little more cautious when it comes to adopting new technology,” says Frederick. “Some people still get comfort in being able to touch a piece of paper, so educating and training everyone on the value of Laserfiche has been interesting.”
In terms of change management, Frederick’s philosophy is that history always denotes the future. “As we were moving to electronic publication, we focused on the input from the Reporter of Decisions and the parameters set by the supreme court. Full integration would have been more easily put in place had we also gotten input from the court about the opinion writing process upfront.”
As Frederick and his team prepare to use Laserfiche to enable attorneys to e-file briefs and other documents that make up the appellate court record, they are training the judges, judicial clerks and administrative assistants first. “The better we understand what each court needs, the more successful the transition will be,” he says.
Frederick explains that e-filing will eliminate the need for lawyers to bring 16 copies of their briefs to court. More importantly, it will allow both courts to quickly find specific pieces of information contained within those briefs, thanks to chapter and marker breaks within electronic briefs, as well as Laserfiche’s sophisticated search capabilities.
“Digitizing will lower our costs and increase our clearance rates,” says Frederick. “Training people ahead of time is a key factor for recognizing the value that Laserfiche has to offer.”]]>
Washington County State’s Attorney, Hagerstown, MD
When attorney Brett Wilson signed on with the Washington County State Attorney’s office, tape recorders, photos, notes and witness verbal testimony were brought to bear in the daily routine of trying cases. Film footage and a movie projector provided an occasional change of pace.
In the last few months all those prosecutorial tools have been rolled into one, which Wilson now says has transformed his job as never before in his twenty years before the bench. The prosecutor’s office has merged its Laserfiche document management system with the Washington County District Court’s Nomad public address system to put trial evidence and testimony into a whole new light.
“Sometimes it seems like the jurors are watching ‘Law and Order,’ only it’s live,” Wilson says referring to the popular television courtroom drama series. “It’s a whole new way of communicating with the court and jury.”
Instead of pulling papers out of briefcases, drawing diagrams on chalkboards, or setting up movie projection screens where, hopefully, most of the court can see them, Wilson and his colleagues just plug their laptops into the Nomad system and call up the evidence needed from court case files stored in the Laserfiche system back at the office.
Instantly, photos, illustrations, diagrams, sworn statements or signed confessions flash on monitors in front of the judge, clerk, witness box, defense table, and on two, 48-inch flat-screen TVs in front of the jury box. Telestrator technology allows attorneys or witnesses to draw on the images on the TV screens, doing for courtroom testimony what football commentator John Madden did for instant replay.
After the image is amended through the testimony provided, it’s then stored back into Laserfiche as a new version, with a hard copy printed out and entered into the court’s trial evidence file. It’s a little like Perry Mason meets Monday Night football, Wilson says, and it’s made a dramatic addition to courtroom testimony.
“We can illustrate for the jury all kinds of things from the image stored on Laserfiche,” he says. “Location of evidence, where an incident took place where the lighting was and what type of evidence was found.”
Wilson used a recent case involving a hunting accident to illustrate the Laserfiche/Nomad system. When a bullet had torn through a home in a housing development, hunters who were perched on a rocky outcropping on a neighboring farm ended up facing charges of criminal negligence.
An aerial photo of the farm stored in Laserfiche was called up from the case file and displayed on the court system of monitors and flat-screen TVs. The prosecuting attorney then illustrated on the image where the bullet was found tracing a clear path to a rocky knoll. The hunters were convicted but of lesser charges, in large part because the Laserfiche/Nomad system made clear their stray bullet may have been careless but not criminal.
“Pictures work a lot better when you can work better with them,” Wilson says. “By being able to display the image that way and mark where the hunters were and where the evidence was found, we provided concrete visuals for things that eventually helped the court make a better judge the case.
In another instance, video footage of a drug buy taken with a hidden microphone and camera by a police confidential informant proved the key in making the conviction. When the drugs and money changed hands the prosecutor was able to freeze the image and zoom in. Technology turned everyday court room testimony into a production worthy of the popular Hollywood television program CSI, Wilson says, all on 48-inch flat-screen TVs in front of the jury.
“The CSI effect is very much in effect,” he says. “And the jury’s ability to digest that information on widescreen TVs right before them can make a very big difference in the outcome of cases.”
In each case, the visuals made it much easier for the jury to make up its mind, Wilson says. Being able to call up such a range of images from Laserfiche in court makes it much easier for Wilson and his colleagues to do their jobs.
This system is the latest expansion of Washington County’s drive to go paperless. It all started two years ago with a presentation by Jeff Sauter, of the Eaton County, MI, prosecutor’s office, according to Washington County State’s Attorney Charles Strong. Since Sauter installed his Laserfiche system four years ago, he’s spoken about the many benefits of embracing paperless technologies, most centered around organizational advantages: never losing case files, less duplication of paperwork, faster access to files, remote and simultaneous access to files. Strong’s office wanted to take it a step farther and use it as a trial tool.
After Sauter’s presentation, Strong got the green light from his own IT people and the Laserfiche software was installed a year ago. Washington County has since been back-scanning archives and started using the new system in earnest just the past few months, Strong says.
Laserfiche WebLink gives attorneys open access to the database from the WiFi-enabled courthouse. Quick Fields instantly indexes scanned items as they are being stored into Laserfiche allowing Washington County to keep current with incoming documents while digging deep into the office’s massive archive, storing it all in Laserfiche. The office’s juvenile court files have been back-scanned into Laserfiche and now the Washington County staff are working on other departments.
“We still have old paper files we were forced to work with, but that number is going down daily,” Strong says. “We’re very satisfied with Laserfiche. It’s been a life saver. Instead of having all that paper flying around, we were able to centralize everything.”
While the Nomad system helps present testimony much more effectively, Laserfiche is the steward of that all important documentation, Wilson says.
“It’s the workhorse that makes sure those testimonial documents are right where they need to be when they need to be. Laserfiche is particularly helpful during sentencing and motions hearings when unexpected demands for documents such as a criminal record, are more common,” Wilson says.
“It gives you a feeling of comfort knowing that if something is in the case file and scanned into Laserfiche, it’s also right there with you in the courthouse,” he adds.
York County Court of Common Pleas, York County, PA
A short distance to the northeast in Pennsylvania, the head of the York County Information Technology Division, Al Raniero, said his office is also interested in Laserfiche’s potential in the trial setting. With the multi-faceted, multi-departmental Laserfiche system the county’s judicial agencies already have in place, York is definitely well on the way.
York County’s court system is three years into its push for paperless operations and has reached deep into the system’s various legal operations along the way. The Sheriff’s office, including their central booking office, the county jail; adult probation; children and youth services; Clerk of Courts office and divorce courts all use Laserfiche document management in various capacities.
Where the system is breaking new ground is using Laserfiche in real-time for court testimony in what’s called the county’s Divorce Masters Office. These officials are appointed arbiters in disputed divorce cases. Before the matter goes to court the Masters review the arguments from both sides in an effort to plot a course for the case in court. What happens in court can deviate from the sworn depositions submitted beforehand. When it does, the Divorce Master calls up the sworn statements stored in Laserfiche in real-time to see where testimony may have strayed from earlier statements.
However, when it comes to testimony in criminal cases, that documentation must still be displayed through conventional means on an audio-visual cart burdened with overhead projectors, tape players and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations downloaded onto laptops. All for display on a single large-screen TV for the entire court to view.
York County’s Laserfiche repository has plenty of photos and even streaming video that could all play a useful evidentiary role in court proceedings, but now must be retrieved from Laserfiche and converted into more traditional media for display on the AV cart. As more and more documents, film or photos are being stored in Laserfiche, improving the availability of that documentation in the trial setting seems as useful as it is inevitable, Raniero said.
“We could take it to that next step, that would be something that I would definitely like to discuss with the court,” he said. “That’s very doable for us as well.”
One stumbling block is how the system might be accepted by outside attorneys, Raniero said. Attorneys with varying technical skills come into the courthouse, and bringing them all up to speed quickly on such a novel system could be a challenge. The county is working hard in that department, expanding Laserfiche throughout the entire county court system.
The reluctance by some judges and court staff in York to embrace the technology early on has yielded to a wholehearted endorsement of its continued expansion—which has resulted in some 15 million court documents being stored in Laserfiche.
A computer terminal in the court clerk’s office now provides access to those files to members of the public. York is also working on a project to provide remote, password-secure access to the court case database through Laserfiche WebLink for private attorneys practicing in the York area.
“By the end of June we hope to have 15 million documents available to 400 attorneys practicing in the area,” said York Senior Project Administrator Mary Jane McCluskey. “Our court administrators are committed to the imaging project.”
So committed that Raniero wants to go farther still. Plans are in motion to install computer terminals in York’s 19 district courts, so judges there have direct, real-time access to Laserfiche throughout the county.
Such instant access has already greatly streamlined York County’s ability to take other judicial matters out of the courtroom. Video cameras, monitors and electronic signature pads posted in the judge’s chambers and the county Sheriff’s central booking facility have taken arraignments out of the courtroom almost entirely.
With Laserfiche WebLink, arrest histories and outstanding warrants are available to the judge in real-time in his chambers so there is no hand copying and delivering of those documents for each arraignment. The judge also appears on a monitor in central booking’s processing room for a video arraignment of the prisoner, who no longer has to be transported to the court for live arraignment.
Someday, judges will have immediate access to documents stored in the county’s Children and Youth Services department’s Laserfiche database when they are hearing dependency cases.
Raniero is setting his sights on new horizons as old ambitions are achieved in York’s roll-out of Laserfiche throughout more county agencies. Seed money from Congress and continued funding from property deed filing fees provided by York’s Records Improvement Fund have moved the three-year project along. Now, Raniero says he’s wondering if federal stimulus money might also be applied to new projects.
One idea Raniero is considering is a tracking system for paper-based case files. Right now, Laserfiche Audit Trail tracks access to confidential court files stored in electronic format, even as that access is opened up in the next few weeks to hundreds of attorneys who practice in the county’s court system.
However, paper files are still required from time to time and tracking them can be trickier. So, Raniero is proposing placing tiny microchips within the paper file folders. That way, court officers can know when files have been removed from county offices and where they’ve gone.
That technology, and the expanded use of Laserfiche documents in real-time trial settings are still a little way down the road. Raniero said. As new technologies are adopted and implemented new applications continually surface that promise new efficiencies. York County’s courts are proceeding judiciously and with deliberation, Raniero said.
“My approach is to do everything in phases,” Raniero said. “We need to walk before we run.”]]>
The County saw its population increase nearly 50%—from nearly 500,000 in 2000 to 725,000 by 2007—straining the county’s infrastructure. As Anderson puts it, “The exponential growth rate of our county is reflected in the increased demand for essential county services.” The governing body of the county, the Commissioners Court, then issued a strategic direction to improve efficiency and customer service. “This caused us to look at an enterprise solution to managing our records with emphasis on migrating to electronic records,” she explains. “We had to reduce our paper and microfilm records volume.”
The county published its RFP in December 2006, and soon after a committee drawn from several county offices (District Clerk, County Clerk, Auditor, Sheriff, Tax Office, Juvenile Probation, Adult Probation, Purchasing, IT and Records) determined that Laserfiche (as bid by reseller MCCi) was the best fit for Collin County.
Anderson notes that she had had county-wide support from the start. “The success of the project is directly attributable to getting these larger user departments involved in both identifying the requirements for the RFP and making the selection,” she says.
Anderson had visited the Laserfiche booth at past ARMA conferences (an active ARMA member, she was a presenter at last year’s conference and is scheduled to present again at this year’s conference, October 15-18 in Orlando, FL). Anderson looked to Laserfiche for three things: its scalability and extensibility; the Laserfiche Toolkit, for integrating Laserfiche with existing and planned software applications; and the Records Management Edition (RME), in order to manage retention for electronic documents.
“RME provides a standard methodology for administering the state mandated retention requirements for all records as well as providing an audit trail for disposition,” Anderson says. “And all of this occurs in the background, so it’s transparent to the user.”
Collin County installed Laserfiche in mid-2007, followed by its first production implementation that November, starting with 100 user licenses and 500 WebLink retrieval licenses just to accommodate cross-departmental use.
The first offices to deploy were the District Clerk, County Clerk (which handles vital records, land recording, and county court at law records), District Attorney, Auditor and Records Department. Because the county was migrating from a legacy system dating from the ‘80s, a massive backlog conversion to Laserfiche was first priority. “Records was actually already scanning for the DA and Auditor, so we switched this to Laserfiche first,” Anderson says.
In the District Clerk’s office, a massive backlog conversion of documents from 1846-2000 into two million images added to the county’s Laserfiche system. “While we eliminated some paper files, we did keep the 1800s paper files for their historical value,” Anderson notes.
When it came to the auditor’s office, the County focused on integration to optimize business processes. “We added a property tax receipts interface with our RT Lawrence receipt processing system,” explains Anderson. Because the tax assessor/collector relied on paper documents, the 10 days it took to process mail resulted in over $1 million lost each day in interest. The county was able to get the assessor’s office up and running by the end of the year to coincide with the heaviest period of property tax receipts.
“Now we process payments much more quickly—up to 10 days faster,” Anderson says. “In fact, we eliminated almost 400 records storage boxes just with this one Laserfiche implementation.”
The County Clerk’s Office also uses RME as the back end for the court’s case management system, where it provides records retention for closed and inactive case files.
Finally, the Justice of the Peace, which manages traffic, truancy, small claims and evictions records, came onboard in June 2008.
With an implementation this extensive, there were understandably some hiccups along the way. “One of the mistakes we made was only purchasing one license each for Quick Fields, Zone OCR and Real-Time Lookup,” Anderson says. But with the approval of the FY2009 budget, the County will be adding Workflow, to be installed when the county upgrades to Laserfiche 8 by the end of the year, as well as additional licenses for ScanConnect, Quick Fields, Zone OCR, and Real-Time Lookup.
The biggest hurdle, however, hasn’t been what modules to use. “I’d say one of our biggest initial challenges was helping departments understand their business processes so we could develop a records series plan tied to record management and retention,” Anderson says. “It’s really an educational process.” Anderson and her team of what she calls “Customer Department Advocates“ employ business plan questionnaires, user guides and demos of successful intra-county implementations, and even help departments choose the right scanners.
These Advocates identify training needs, review business processes, records series structure and templates, and scan sample boxes of files into Laserfiche so departmental staff can see how their records series and template structures will work in the new environment.
As more departments successfully use Laserfiche, even more want to get on board. The Commissioners Court has a planned deployment through September 2009, which includes implementations in IT, the Auditor’s Department, Development Services (permitting and animal control), Human Resources, Sheriff’s Office records, Tax, Motor Vehicle and Purchasing.
“We based our 2009 deployment plan on several factors, including percentage of permanent records maintained for the department, volume of records, distributed accessibility requirements, and overall reduction in paper storage space in the new administration building for the departments moving their this year,” Anderson explains.
The County’s still quantifying ROI from using Laserfiche, but Anderson can point to a windfall of newfound efficiency.
“By using Laserfiche and changing the internal process to take advantage of the system’s new capabilities, the Auditor’s accounts payable office has already identified 300 hours of staff time saved, and reduction in volume of file folders and labels formerly used to place each paper copy of a check and the backup into a separate folder on their departmental shelving,” Anderson says. “The internal audit staff is able to review case files and receipts as part of their auditing process —freeing Auditor-, departmental-, and records staff from pulling paper files for auditors to review.”
Then there’s the peace of mind knowing that Collin County’s doing its part to provide better and more sustainable customer service now and in the future.
“We’re finally getting a handle on our electronic records, even though it’s going to take three to five years to fully implement,” Anderson says. “And we’ve definitely enjoyed faster response time when a customer or citizen requests a file. Even better, multiple users can access the same record from different locations simultaneously.”
Speaking of simultaneous, Anderson says that her biggest obstacle is handling the requests from remaining departments to implement Laserfiche. “The hardest thing I have to do is tell someone, ‘Not yet –can I work with you to make sure your needs are included in next year’s budget?’”
But as Collin County is proving department by department, the results are worth the wait—and the planning time.
Collin County IT Director Caren Skipworth was named Texas CIO of the Year on Jan. 27 at Government Technology’s GTC Southwest 2009 in Austin.
As IT director, Skipworth promoted intergovernmental collaboration and provided innovative leadership, according to judges. Skipworth, who joined Collin County in 1990, said she was honored to win the award and thanked her “talented and dedicated” staff.
“I’m very proud of this,” she said. “I believe technology is the catalyst for change.”
For more information, read this Government Technology interview with Skipworth.
Business Processes In this Case Study:
According to Records Manager Margaret Anderson, staff in the county’s courts had difficulty finding information, due to disparate systems implemented by each department. “We also had over 15,000 reels of microfilm and 18,450 boxes of paper stored throughout the county,” she says. “Files were everywhere and we couldn’t keep up with the demand. We had to ensure that staff did not unintentionally destroy records that needed to be retained, and we wanted to implement a case management system (CMS). But we also had to manage all the paper.
“Our first step was to select and implement a new case management system for the county court system,” Anderson continues. “The records management system (RMS) we chose needed to interface with this system and provide records management control for closed and disposed case files, as well as support documents.”
Anderson found the ideal solution in Laserfiche Records Management Edition (RME), which centralizes scanned paper and electronic records while automating records retention and destruction. “What I like about Laserfiche is that I can manage electronic documents, paper, microfilm and audio and video files enterprise-wide,” Anderson says.
Collin County’s journey to provide order to their paper-based legal system began with a two-year project in the district court clerk’s office, converting paper case files from 1846-2000 into archival images—a total of over ten million images.
Anderson then expanded the plan to manage archiving, retention and management of case files for the county court, integrating RME with the county’s CMS. RME provides back-end records retention for closed and inactive case files. “It’s very easy to use, and it helps us meet our goal of providing quality, cost-effective public service,” she notes.
Laserfiche also helps the district attorney’s office operate more efficiently. “We’ve scanned felony case files into Laserfiche, which has been great,” Anderson says. “Our old content manager didn’t have full-text search capability, and it didn’t manage records retention. With RME, it’s easy to manage retention periods, which can range from 25-50 years, and it’s simple to locate information.”
Anderson realized the value of the county’s Laserfiche system when a flood in May 2007 damaged nearly 1,000 boxes of records—many of them with no backup. “It’s clear how important Laserfiche is for business continuity,” she says. “Had those files been stored in Laserfiche, we wouldn’t have needed to worry when the flood waters started rising. People worry about computers crashing, but in reality, paper documents are much more likely to be destroyed than digital ones.”
Laserfiche also offers the flexibility Collin County needs to expand enterprise-wide—while still meeting each department’s unique needs. The county is implementing Laserfiche in the property tax department to digitally store copies of checks, stubs and letters received as part of the annual property tax receipting process. Planning for the next budget cycle includes integrating Laserfiche with SunGard® HTE in the auditor’s office to manage accounts payable documents. The development department also plans to integrate Laserfiche with its existing GIS application to manage septic system records. Eventually, most county records will be stored in Laserfiche and will be viewable over the Internet.
“I’ve been really pleased with the system,” Anderson says. “But what I’m most looking forward to is expanding our records retention plan to include electronic records—which will make us better prepared to comply with e-discovery orders.”
Anderson isn’t the only one who’s pleased. County staff have been so delighted that they’re spreading the word to other departments. “The response to Laserfiche has been so positive, that it’s been difficult to keep up with demand for new installations,” she says. “I’ve just had to start saying ‘No’ nicely—and tell them ‘You’ll just have to learn to wait your turn.’”]]>
The Kern County Superior Court has a metropolitan division in Bakersfield, CA, and three regional divisions with seven branches. Staff had been microfilming case files for many years, but, according to Imaging Supervisor Marc St. Laurent, this solution was far from ideal. “Microfilm was never a good storage medium,” he explains. “Court cases can be active for many years, so we frequently need to add probation reports or other information to the case file. We had to re-film entire files when we added a single piece of paper, and it was very difficult to find information.”
Staff knew they had to replace this antiquated archiving system, so they began searching for a flexible, cost-effective solution that would meet everyone’s needs. “We knew we needed to make files more accessible for judges, but the technology had to be extremely user-friendly,” St. Laurent says. “Our court clerk also needed to respond to records requests more quickly. In fact, we wanted to make case files immediately available, rather than making customers wait 2-3 days.”
The court chose to implement a Laserfiche® digital document management solution because it met all these needs. “Our previous clerk was very technology-minded, and he really grabbed the bull by the horns,” St. Laurent remembers. “We didn’t have any technology in the regional courts—in fact, most of our branches were storing files in trailers in the parking lot. So we knew the regional courts were a great place to start rolling out our solution.”
The deployment began with a pilot project in the Lamont regional court, chosen for its smaller size and lower case volume. The court freed up space, improved file accessibility and provided better service, proving that Laserfiche could meet the needs of Kern County’s other courts. Best of all, judges were comfortable with the solution—once they realized that files, in St. Laurent’s words, “were not going to disappear into the ether.”
After the successful deployment in Lamont, the court expanded its Laserfiche system county-wide. The enterprise deployment began with court staff scanning closed files. “We began scanning adjudicated case files so they are securely archived,” St. Laurent says. “We’ve gone back six years on felonies and three and a half years on misdemeanors. We’d eventually like to start scanning at the counter, but right now we have such a large backlog of files, we’re just trying to deal with that.”
Staff at each court use Laserfiche to scan case files into the central repository in Bakersfield. The court uses Laserfiche’s flexible file structure to organize its repository by division, and then by year, date and case number. To automate this process, the county’s reseller, DataNet Solutions, designed a custom integration that not only creates the file structure, but also integrates with the state judicial database, the California Justice Information System (CJIS). “This customization is just wonderful,” St. Laurent says. “All our staff have to do is enter the case number, and Laserfiche automatically pulls the name, date of birth and other pertinent information directly from CJIS. Not only does this ensure quality control, it also limits manual data entry, which speeds up filing.” Eventually, the court plans to expand the integration to include CLASS ACT, the state’s civil, family law and probate database.
After files are scanned into the repository, over 300 users county-wide access them using nothing more than their Web browsers—thanks to Laserfiche WebLink™. “WebLink is great, because there’s no software installation required,” St. Laurent says. “Our IT staff find Laserfiche extremely easy to support. We have two staff members managing Laserfiche from the network end, and, because of WebLink, they’re able to handle everything countywide from our Bakersfield location. It’s really a smooth process.”
And it isn’t just IT staff who appreciate Laserfiche. Court staff find it useful, too—just not in the ways you might expect.
While staff definitely benefit from improved access to information, it’s the security features, like blackout and whiteout redactions, that they really appreciate. “It seems like such a small thing, but to them, it’s extremely important because it’s so useful. They don’t have to take markers to black out witnesses’ names or addresses on arrest reports anymore—there’s been a lot of excitement over that feature,” St. Laurent explains.
Since deploying Laserfiche county-wide four years ago, court staff have eliminated approximately 40,000 files from their records room. Now, instead of calling the records center and waiting for records to be delivered, clerks simply open Laserfiche and retrieve the files they need. When another branch requests felony case files from the Bakersfield office, staff scan the files into Laserfiche, rather than mailing a physical copy. With Laserfiche, authorized staff in any location can instantly retrieve these files—eliminating lost files and saving both time and money.
“Customers probably don’t notice much from the front end, because Laserfiche helps us deal with cases that are already disposed of,” St. Laurent says. “But it has certainly made us more efficient behind the scenes.”
But some customers have noticed the difference. Before Laserfiche, customers seeking files from the regional courts would have to travel to the metro division in Bakersfield. “From the court in Ridgecrest to metro division in Bakersfield is a two and a half hour drive, one-way,” St. Laurent says. “But with Laserfiche, we can help people right at the counter, even if they’re at the wrong building.”
St. Laurent remembers when Laserfiche helped court staff cope with a quintuple murder trial, one of the biggest trials in the county’s history. “About 500 potential jurors were brought in for questioning, and the media wanted access to their questionnaires,” he remembers. “The judge had the idea that, instead of copying hundreds of eight-page jury questionnaires for reporters, we’d scan them into Laserfiche. We created a public folder reporters could access from the media center, which saved our staff a lot of time.
“The system worked beautifully, and it really exposed the court at large to Laserfiche’s benefits,” he continues. “Because this is a death penalty case, it will automatically be appealed. We’re hoping that the appellate court will let us submit the jury questionnaires on disc.”
Eventually, court staff hope that more county departments will use Laserfiche to enable more efficient information sharing. The sheriff’s department and other law enforcement agencies already have access to restraining orders stored in Laserfiche. Court staff scan the orders into the Laserfiche repository, providing law enforcement officers and 911 dispatchers with immediate access—something that St. Laurent says has definitely increased public safety.
The public defender’s office is also using Laserfiche, and St. Laurent hopes the probation department will be next in line. “This would be very effective. There’s a lot of document flow between our two organizations, and it would be great to have probation reports immediately available to judges at sentencing hearings,” he says.
For the Kern County Superior Court, Laserfiche has proved to be a wise investment, one which St. Laurent would recommend to other courts. “Laserfiche is here to stay as far as our court operations are concerned. You don’t lose files once they’re captured, it’s simple to add information to case files, even years after the fact, and it’s good for customers. It’s a fantastic solution.”]]>
The York County Clerk of Courts Office uses a Laserfiche® digital document management system to manage criminal court records for the York County Court of Common Pleas, whose records are used by 25 other county departments. With over 8,000 cases processed annually and more than $9 million collected in costs, fines and restitution, managing the related documents is a big job.
Before implementing Laserfiche, York County faced what Information Services Department Senior Project Administrator Mary Jane McCluskey calls a “‘sneakernet’ nightmare,” with paper copies as the only reliable means of circulating information. Searching for documents which could be located on any one of sixteen clerks’ desks was becoming increasingly costly. Not to mention that older documents resided five miles offsite and communicating with the county prison—also located five miles away—relied on easily-misplaced faxes.
“With the prison, people were often quicker than the process,” McCluskey says. “New inmates would be turned away because their paperwork hadn’t arrived and the prison didn’t expect them. Or the family would arrive to pick up a released inmate, and the prison wouldn’t know the case disposition, so they wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
After a successful pilot project to digitize minutes from board meetings, York County began digitizing court files in 2005. The first step was to identify major categories or topics of filings, such as “motion-petition-order” or “disposition-sentencing,” which streamlined file organization in Laserfiche. “My staff put their institutional knowledge to work and developed 17 criteria, or file chapters, from the myriad filings we receive daily,” says Clerk of Courts Don O’Shell. “Wendy Bossard, our judicial services manager, and Kathy Groff, our records unit manager, deserve tremendous credit for developing the basic building blocks of our electronic file structure in Laserfiche.”
In 2006, the office began scanning all incoming filings, with the goal of imaging all filings within four hours, or by the next business day for documents received after 3:00 P.M. Staff established a rush process, whereby documents requiring more rapid processing are rushed directly to imaging, docketed and forwarded to a judge, serviced to the sheriff or district attorney, or sent along to defense counsel.
On the recommendation of their reseller, DocuScan USA, the county also set up a system to simplify scanning and filing. They implemented Quick Fields™ with Pattern Matching and Real Time Lookup™, which pulls the case number from the state database and creates a folder structure. Quick Fields also automatically sorts and files case documents, which minimizes staff training. “All we have to do is create batch header sheets with bar codes, and Quick Fields does the rest,” says Front Counter Supervisor Garth Bambling. “It takes seconds for front counter clerks to create batch header sheets, which are attached to the documents and then sent back for scanning.”
County-wide access to the Laserfiche repository means that other departments can view scanned documents as they need them, eliminating the need to copy documents multiple times and significantly reducing file requests—making the court and related departments much more efficient. This reduces the need for overtime and promotes better relations among departments, given that staff in other parts of county government can instantly access case files maintained in the clerk’s office. The prison records office also has access to case dispositions and court documents in a searchable format, which eliminates the problem of misplaced documents, as well as the need to physically fax or transport paper records.
The office’s Laserfiche repository stores everything from criminal and juvenile records to miscellaneous docket files, summary appeals and administration files. By early 2006, all files had been imaged from the front end, and, in summer 2006, staff began the back-scanning process. “We had four million documents from 2000 on alone,” McCluskey says, “and we needed to be able to give the judges, probation staff, district attorneys and public defenders access to those documents.”
But not everyone immediately saw value in digitizing case files. “Certain members of the court expressed their preference that imaging take a back seat to the docketing and servicing of court filings, and said that imaging should be accomplished on the back end, instead of on the front end,” O’Shell remembers. “Some even went as far as to cite potential contempt of court proceedings if imaging wasn’t relegated to solely an archival process.”
Yet once the 2006 and 2007 files were digitized, judges began asking for even more documents online. “They found that it made research easy,” McCluskey says, “and they liked being able to immediately respond to questions from attorneys, probation officers and the public.”
To help judges and staff further embrace the new system, McCluskey and her colleagues started a hands-on training program to train staff during the judges’ lunch hour. “This is an ongoing project,” McCluskey says. “We’re training other departments as well. When we first implemented the system, we gave users access to it before we’d trained them, and some users became slightly frustrated because they didn’t realize everything the system could do. We definitely learned from that.”
And that wasn’t the only thing McCluskey learned. “With a big project like this, it’s important to think in terms of years, not months,” she says. “Just realize that success builds upon success—just focus on getting one thing accomplished, then move on to the next thing. Work in small steps, and before you know it, you’re done.”
The York County program doesn’t just provide faster access to case files, it also helps to ensure business continuity. McCluskey chairs an initiative to develop a countywide continuity of operations plan, of which Laserfiche is a key component. “This is a three-year project that moves far beyond disaster recovery,” she says. “We focus not just on technology, but also people, process and location to identify vulnerability. With departments that only have paper files, like our public defender or our mental health department, what happens if they can’t get back into their building for months? What happens if the files are gone entirely?”
In fall 2007, York County implemented a pilot program to give attorneys access to case files over the Web, and hopes to extend the system even further. The county also plans to implement Laserfiche in both the central booking division of the sheriff’s department and in the children and youth services department, where cases are often open for more than 20 years. The benefits have been so great that the clerk’s office would like to receive superior and supreme court appeals electronically, and they’d like to install touch screens in the courtroom so clerks can enter information and send it to Laserfiche even more quickly.
The progress the county courts have made is impressive. “To us, the biggest change is that the judges who refused to give up paper—the same ones who were threatening us with contempt of court charges if we couldn’t give them immediate access to case files—are now the system’s biggest advocates,” O’Shell says. “We even had one judge tell us the system was ‘better than sliced bread.’ ”]]>
“We greatly appreciate the outstanding service and swift way Laserfiche® and TCi have handled our operational concerns.”
Ballentine’s staff was dwindling due to retirements, and it was clearly time for the 150-year-old law enforcement agency to get smarter with technology. He spearheaded an initiative to bring in document management software from Laserfiche® and system integrators Technical Consultants International (TCi).
Ballentine says, “We greatly appreciate the outstanding service and swift way Laserfiche and TCi have handled our operational concerns.” That review comes after Laserfiche has only been on the job for a few weeks and only in the records room at headquarters. The SFPD is starting off slowly as it attempts to groom decades of data in electronic and paper forms into something more manageable. There’s lots of room for improvement for their record-keeping. It’s almost as paper-based now as it was 30 years ago. Each day, the SFPD’s 2,300 officers add 1,500 new pages of reports, which quickly accumulate into a massive paper problem. Every month the records room alone goes through a pallet of paper – that’s 200,000 sheets.”
So far, Laserfiche is used as an electronic data bank. In the past eight years, the department has indexed and imaged nine million pages of police reports. Untold millions more pages of paper reports are in filing cabinets throughout the department.
An incident report is the initial item in what can be a very long chain of documents – supplemental reports, evidence, statements and more. Most of it starts out as paper but needs to be digitized right away so it can be distributed to officers, attorneys and judges.
In San Francisco, most police reports are written on PCs installed in the 10 district police stations around the city. Sounds good so far, but then they’re printed out and hand-delivered to the records room, where they are photocopied and distributed on paper to the investigations bureau and the district attorney.
One set of paper reports is scanned and automatically indexed into Laserfiche. With a previous system, all the indexing was done manually by typing in a few pieces of information from the report, with lots of errors and wasted resources; so Laserfiche is already streamlining the process.
Another set of paper goes to clerical staff that key a bit more of the information into the 70’s era mainframe system, which is shared with the court and district attorney. A new records management system being adopted by the department is still many months away. Until that system gets going, the most comprehensive information is found in the images and searchable text in Laserfiche.
The next step will be giving access to reports in Laserfiche over the secure public safety intranet, so inspectors and district attorneys can locate the reports without leaving their desks. But the big leap will occur once the reports that officers create on the police station computers can be automatically picked up, imaged and indexed into Laserfiche without human intervention. It’s an easy technical fix but a difficult bureaucratic challenge to get it done.
TCi Director of Professional Services Bill Bigley says there is still more Laserfiche can do to streamline police work in the City by the Bay.
“San Francisco has many agencies that need to tap into this system,” Bigley said, “including the district attorney’s office, the courts and the police department’s own legal division. Eventually all SF Criminal Justice Agencies could be given secure access to these records through the Web.”
Lofty notions when you’re talking about big-city bureaucracies that have to sign off and then collaborate on such projects. But smaller departments and agencies across the country are doing exactly that.
These are the sorts of services and testimonials San Francisco Law Enforcement Agencies could be receiving as well, according to Bigley. “The key thing,” he said, “is that Laserfiche enables more accurate information and makes that information available to more agencies.”
Ballentine is all too aware of the possibilities, but sometimes revolutions come in baby steps. Regardless of how bright the future is, he’s happy for now to enjoy this new version of the present.
Said TCi’s Bill Bigley, “Seven or eight months ago there were 25,000 reports sitting on a table because of inefficient processes – a huge backlog that affected their staff, the public and the courts. Laserfiche has been a dramatic help in reducing that, and it’s going to keep them from getting backlogged in the future.”]]>
As a former prosecutor, I believe that government functions best when it operates in the public eye,” Brock explains. “At the same time, as a CPA, I want to keep costs down. Thanks to technological advances that allow us to put up enormous amounts of information quickly and inexpensively, we can now do both.”
Currently, Brock’s site provides access to reports on the actions of the Collier County Board of County Commissioners since 1991. The next major step is to add public records from the court itself. “Eventually, people will have access to everything short of the trial strategies for the criminal and civil cases that we are handling at that time,” Brock says.
The repository of records on Brock’s site is powered by Laserfiche WebLink®, a scan-to-the-Web publishing system capable of providing searchable access to millions of pages of documents. Using this product, Board of County Commissioners information becomes available as soon as it is scanned into an Internet-connected database. The process eliminates the need for coding, file conversion, special plug-ins or software in order to view the document. For example, it would take several years for an experienced Webmaster to put 80,000 pages of information on the Internet using HTML coding, the current standard for the vast majority of Internet pages. Brock’s staff was able to create the initial database for its Web site in less than ten hours.
“Using this approach, we can provide instantaneous access to huge amounts of information very inexpensively, especially now that the initial ‘supersizing’ of the Web site is finished,” says Brock. “In terms of human resources saved, the system has already paid for itself.”
The office of the Collier County Clerk of Courts is one of the first local government agencies anywhere to commit to putting all its public records on the Internet. Others making similar commitments include the City of Bakersfield, CA; Deschutes and Benton counties in Oregon; and a regional planning council in Brazil. There are more than 30 additional local government agencies in various stages of using Laserfiche WebLink to turn the Internet into a searchable library for their public records. Lakeland, FL-based R&S Integrated Products and Services, Inc., handled the Collier County installation. The repository can be found at http://www.clerk.collier.fl.us/weblink/.]]>