Courts Clear Paper Jam

Riverside, Calif., developed a new weapon for battling its court's paper monster.

by / December 31, 1995
PROBLEM/SITUATION: Courts burdened with paper and slow access procedures.
SOLUTION: A cross-court document imaging system.
JURISDICTION: Consolidated and Coordinated Courts of Riverside County, Calif.
VENDORS: Data General, ISD, Genesis.
CONTACT: Garry Raley, assistant executive officer, Consolidated and Coordinated Courts of Riverside County, 909/275-5531; Stan Gobozy, judicial services supervisor for document imaging, 909/275-1613.


By David Aden
Contributing Writer

"I'm sorry -- that document is located off-site. Please fill out this request form, leave it with me and you'll be notified when it's ready to be picked up."

This, or some version of it, is a mantra all too familiar to citizens and lawyers who need or want to get copies of documents filed in court cases across the country.

Courts live and breathe documents -- tens of thousands of pages of documents every day in the form of complaints, answers to complaints, motions, oppositions to motions, answers to oppositions, etc. The life of any court depends on the orderly inflow and outflow of documents. Yet today many courts are choking on the paper they generate.

To address these problems Riverside, Calif., began to build an integrated infrastructure for
its judicial system several years ago. Designed to use database, imaging and networking technology to present an integrated, efficient face to the public, the idea was to lay the groundwork for an eventual move from a paper-based behemoth to a user-friendly paperless system. Although Riverside has not gone paperless yet, it has taken major steps toward that goal.

Riverside is a geographically diverse county approximately 200 miles long and 60 miles wide. It contains several large, distinct communities and has civil, family law, probate, traffic, criminal and juvenile courts.

The fundamental piece of the Riverside infrastructure is a document management system into which all filings in any case are entered. What sets this apart is that it is a cross-court system -- you can go into any facility and make a filing for any other court. Notification of the filing is routed to the proper place.

"Before the system existed, there were separate municipal courts with their own jurisdictions and superior courts with separate venues," said Garry Raley, assistant executive officer for the Consolidated and Coordinated Courts of Riverside County. "If you lived in a particular catchment area, you would have to go to the court that related to that area. By doing cross filings with the automated case management system, we can provide service for people in a remote area or for people who just live in another area."

The system is used for everything from filing pleadings in a case to paying traffic violations. For example, someone who gets a traffic ticket in Indio or Corona, but lives in Riverside, can save a 30- to 40-minute drive by paying at the courthouse in their home town.

Taking the next step toward a paperless environment, Riverside has integrated document imaging with the document management system. When someone comes in to make a filing, key information is entered into the document management system including the case number, the name of the filer and the type of document. At that point the document has been filed, whether or not the case it relates to is physically located in the same building. Where the document goes from there depends on what court it is in. Documents for cases in civil court are sent to the document imaging staff.

"Basically, everything is checked as soon as the [document imaging] operator picks up a document," said Stan Gobozy, judicial services supervisor for document imaging. "The quality assurance begins right then. They enter the document management system and scroll to the particular date and then select the document they have in their hand, make sure the case number is the same and all the data is correct, then scan the document. After the document is scanned, it languishes on the hard disk until the end of the day."

At the end of the day, the image is shipped to an optical jukebox for permanent storage. Currently only civil cases are being scanned, but the system will be expanded to include all other courts served by the document management system. Despite the limit to civil cases, about 20,000 pages of documents per week are being handled.

"In mid-July we added an AV5500 jukebox from Data General that has the capability of holding 144 platters at 1.3 gigs each," said Gobozy. "On the old file server, we have two jukeboxes holding 56 platters apiece, each at 660 megabytes. We currently have about 80 gigs of information online."

Although cross-court filing and document imaging has reduced run-around time for citizens, Riverside has taken it a step further. They now have four fax servers -- 486 PCs running the Image-X software which is used to handle the imaging -- into which documents may be faxed.

"If the clerk is working on some incoming mail, she can go in and work on her task at hand while a fax comes in, which she'll know by virtue of a beep," said Gobozy. "Once the fax is complete, the station will indicate it by a double beep and she can view the document to make sure it has come in in its entirety. Once she has seen the entire document is there, she will file it, take the fees (done by credit card) and enter it into the conversion process, which is much like scanning a document but there is no paper. At the end of the day, the document will be transferred to the jukebox and it will be ready for access the next day. One of our goals is to give the customer access to the document in 24 hours."

Currently, for cases not in civil court, the document is printed and sent to the appropriate court, although the process of filing the document is the same.

When lawyers or researchers need access to a civil case file, they no longer need to stand in line, request the file from a clerk, wait for the clerk to find the file and then sign it out. Public terminals have been set up with simple directions for locating cases and pulling up images of the case documents. Once a document has been located, users can print it, review it on-screen or download it to a laptop PC to take home. In the future, document images will be available to the public through the Internet.

For those who don't want to travel to any court just to check the status of cases, the document management system is available via dial-up. Attorneys set up an account with the clerk and may then check case dockets directly from their offices.

Online access has made things easier for court clerks by streamlining behind-the-scenes case management and preparation. No longer do clerks have to search through a case file to find out whether or not an answer to a motion was filed on time. Nor do work-up attorneys -- who prepare the case for the judges -- have to shuffle a paper file from place to place. They now do their work online.

At this point only one of the judges has a terminal in chambers and on the bench, but plans exist to extend availability of the system. This will further lighten daily prep work as documents relating to cases on the calendar will be downloaded to departmental cache servers. This would make the case file rapidly available to any court officer.

So far, the system has met with great enthusiasm from the public, court officers and from people visiting Riverside to see how the system works. According to Gobozy, visitors are coming in from all over, and not just from other courts. They have had visitors from hospitals, insurance companies, realtors -- anyone interested in document imaging systems.

Although the system hasn't gone paperless yet -- Riverside is still finding and fixing bugs and incompatibilities here and there and documents for the other courts need to be put online -- it seems to have administered a needed Heimlich maneuver on a court system choking on paper.

David Aden
David Aden is a writer from Washington, D.C.