After months of planning and development, the Administrative Office of the Courts has completed its Electronic Records and Imaging Policy for the Records in the Custody of the Clerks of Superior Court. This is a significant achievement given the volume and legal value of the records in the clerks’ custody and the time and analysis required to develop a comprehensive plan for the maintenance and preservation of born digital and scanned records. The Government Records Section at the State Archives applauds their efforts, and in the hopes of inspiring and encouraging other state agencies as they endeavor to prepare electronic records policies, we’ll be highlighting AOC’s policy, and their process, in a series of three blog posts. Part 1 will discuss the origins, goals, and initial steps of AOC’s project.
As AOC’s new electronic records policy explains, the clerks of Superior Court have up to this point maintained court records in paper form with microfilm back-ups. AOC “estimates that 4.5 miles of paper are added to case files in the custody of clerks each year” (NCAOC 2017). In addition, the North Carolina General Assembly mandated in GS 7A-49.5(a) in 2006 that
the electronic filing of pleadings and other documents required to be filed with the courts may be a more economical, efficient, and satisfactory procedure to handle the volumes of paperwork routinely filed with, handled by, and disseminated by the courts of this State, and therefore authorizes the use of electronic filing in the courts of this State.
Furthermore, GS 7A-343(9a) requires AOC’s director to “establish and operate systems and services that provide for electronic filing in the court system and further provide electronic transaction processing and access to court information systems.” Thus, the goals for AOC’s electronic records management project were to fulfill the assembly’s mandate, thereby alleviating the pressure to find space for paper records, while maintaining the authenticity, or trustworthiness, of the records within the clerks’ custody.
So, where to begin? Elizabeth Croom, assistant legal counsel at AOC, credits the resources available on the State Archives of North Carolina’s website for getting AOC started, noting in her presentations on the subject that the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) has at least thirty-five different guidelines documents totaling at least 427 pages (see https://archives.ncdcr.gov/government/digital-records/digital-records-policies-and-guidelines) (Croom 2017). This may seem overwhelming at first, but our guidance documents have been broken down topically to make it easier to identify the resource you need when you need it. These documents helped AOC to solidify their vision for the new electronic records system and provided important benchmarks for designing their electronic records management program.
Given the legal nature of the clerks’ work, admissibility of electronic records into evidence in courts of law was of primary importance to the AOC team, but this concern isn’t unique to AOC—the authenticity of born-digital and scanned records is important for all state and local units of government. The State Archives’ Guidelines for Managing Trustworthy Digital Public Records (https://archives.ncdcr.gov/documents/guidelines-managing-trustworthy-digital-public-records) lays out the legal requirements for admissibility and discusses the necessary components for maintaining trustworthy digital public records, which include
- Training Programs
- Audit Trails
These components are rolled into the State Archives’ sample electronic records policy, available here: https://archives.ncdcr.gov/documents/state-agency-rm. This policy document was developed to prompt state and local agencies to ask and answer the right questions when embarking on an electronic records program.
In part 2 of our series, we’ll discuss who was invited to participate in policy planning at AOC, the specifications of the records management system they chose for their program, and what the new system’s roll-out will look like.
Croom, Elizabeth. 2017. “Electronic Records Management: Meeting Legal Requirements with EIMS.” Presentation, North Carolina Judicial Center, Raleigh, NC, May.
NCAOC (North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts). 2017. Electronic Records and Imaging Policy for Records in the Custody of Clerks of Superior Court. Raleigh: North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.