Courts & Corrections

Efficiency, access are goals of new ‘electronic courthouse’

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A hearing in Washington County Superior Court. File photo by Alan J. Keays/VTDigger

Vermont judiciary officials have finalized an information management contract with a vendor that they say should modernize courthouse operations and make legal records more accessible to the public.

Officials say the so-called next-generation case management system will nearly eliminate paper documents and improve efficiency and delivery of services to the public.

Paper filing capabilities will still remain for pro se litigants who do not have access to a computer. Court staff will then convert these files to electronic records.

It’s expected that by 2021, the system will be used by the Vermont Supreme Court, the Judicial Bureau and all 14 county units of the statewide Superior Court.

“The product will allow us to be more efficient and effective, enabling us to create an electronic courthouse,” said Patricia Gabel, Vermont’s state court administrator.

The system includes a public portal, which will provide access to information on a web page linked from the judiciary’s main site. Public records will be available online from anywhere at any time, judiciary officials said.

Patricia Gabel
Patricia Gabel is the court administrator for the Vermont judiciary. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
Affidavits supporting a criminal charge also will be available for viewing online, unless they are ruled confidential.

Tyler Technologies was selected after an extensive proposal process over a two-year period. A request for proposals was issued in 2015, and the judiciary conducted on-site demonstrations and took bids last fall. The Maine-based software company will provide Odyssey, a case management system that is already installed in more than 400 trial courts and at least 12 states.

The Legislature appropriated initial funding for the project in 2015, with remaining funds included in the capital bill Gov. Phil Scott signed June 16. The contract with Tyler Technologies is for $7.3 million, and the department estimates the total five-year implementation cost will be $11.7 million.

Jeff Loewer, the Vermont judiciary’s chief information officer, said the new management software will improve security and offer external technical support through the vendor.

“It’s a risky platform that we’re on, and it’s only supported by an internal staff member,” Loewer said of the judiciary’s present system.

The current automated docketing system serves as an index to paper files and has been in use since 1990. The judiciary relies on the executive branch for systems such as email, network and application hosting. Paper document processes, such a case filings, will be replaced by e-filing, and hard copy records will be converted electronically if they are still needed.

The system’s infrastructure includes security and recovery capabilities, and paper files will not be used as backups.

The current operations of the judiciary include paper-based records, redundant data entry, and challenges in accessing files and information.

Loewer said the current system is no longer able to support the judiciary’s current and future goals and essential needs.

“Reliance on this outdated application, with no external support, as the backbone of our court operation poses increasing risks to courts and to the public due to the ongoing possibility of system failure from which the judiciary may not recover,” he said.

A previous attempt by the judiciary to modernize its management system ended with a disputed contract settlement in 2013. The state had spent $1.7 million of a projected $4.3 million contract, when New Dawn Technologies delayed delivering promised results, according to Gabel. Officials believed the implementation could not be completed within the initial budget or timeframe.

The first rollout of the new system will be in the judicial bureau in 2019, followed by geographically based rollouts. The software is expected to be fully implemented statewide by 2021.

“It’s a very large and complex system, and we’re very excited,” Gabel said.

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