(TNS) In the not-too-distant future, all Indiana court documents could be filed electronically and accessed by anyone with an Internet connection at no charge.
That's the vision for e-filing Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush shared with members of the General Assembly in her first State of the Judiciary address earlier this month.
"Imagine the hours and costs required to shepherd tens of millions of pages of paper as they are filed and refiled, delivered and mailed, stored and shuffled, copied and recopied, and on and on throughout Indiana courts and agencies each year," she said. "Pennies of additional investment now will reap dollars of savings in future records management costs."
Supreme Court Justice Steven David and Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias are heading the state court system's e-filing effort.
They told reporters last week e-filing is the next step for court technology, which already relies on electronic records sharing for everything from jury pool lists to marriage license applications, e-tickets for traffic infractions to protection orders.
"E-filing is the direction we are going, it's the direction we have been going, and we intend to pursue it with much vigor," David said. "We believe the people of Indiana deserve an e-filing system."
"In a Facebook world, the basic level of service that Indiana citizens expect from their government is electronic access, and e-filing will bring that level of access to Indiana's citizens and taxpayers," he said.
The court system is requesting an additional $5 million a year from the Legislature to purchase an unlimited, statewide license for e-filing software that would enable litigants to submit paperwork electronically to the court and their opponents, as well as permitting court clerks and the public to access the records.
Under the plan, e-filing would be rolled out to a few pilot counties later this year, including at least one county using the court's Odyssey case management system and one running a different system, as well as the state's appellate courts.
Older court records would not immediately be added to the system, if ever.
Lake County could be among the first to get full e-filing since it already has been experimenting with electronic court records, under Supreme Court supervision, for several years.
David said the idea is to "get it right, then get it everywhere," but he said much depends on whether state lawmakers share the court system's vision.
For example, while David and Mathias said the courts will push ahead with e-filing even if they don't get their full funding request, they'd prefer not having to force users to pay fees for accessing records like the federal PACER e-filing system that charges 10 cents for each page viewed.
"Our interest is to make e-filing as widely accessible to as many entities as possible at the lowest possible cost," Mathias said. "We believe e-filing is the new basic level and the new basic responsibility of government services in the court system."
The House Ways and Means Committee will get the first crack at assessing the court's e-filing plans and deciding whether to include funding for e-filing in the $31 billion state budget they will submit to the Republican-controlled House in late February.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence did not include money for court e-filing in his proposed state budget, but he also did not spend some $600 million in anticipated revenue. He said he was leaving it up to lawmakers to decide how to allocate some of that extra money.
Mathias said he is optimistic because so far he only is getting positive responses to the court's e-filing proposal.
"Those in leadership positions understand immediately that this is not the future, this is today, and this is the way that the court system can be as accessible as other branches of government and as everything else in our Internet-age lives," Mathias said.
©2015 The Times (Munster, Ind.)