Administrative Office of the Courts’ Electronic Records and Imaging Policy: Part 3

This is part 3 of our look at the Administrative Office of the Courts’ new Electronic Records and Imaging Policy for the Records in the Custody of the Clerks of Superior Court (see part 1 and part 2). Part 3 will discuss how the policy, and the procedures it encompasses, will change the way the clerks of Superior Court approach their records; the challenges of producing such a policy; and the lessons learned. It will also provide a recap of the resources available to state agencies in the beginning stages of creating an electronic records policy.

Electronic recordkeeping has its advantages and its pitfalls. One major improvement for the clerks of superior court will be the ease of access to well-indexed electronic documents. Not only will going digital improve efficiency within courthouses by cutting down on the time it takes to retrieve files, but it will also help expedite public records requests. Likewise, the e-filing component of the system will change the clerk-attorney workflow for the better, eliminating wait time at the courthouse, generating automatic notices, and creating a new, more streamlined process for handling problems that relies less back and forth between parties.

On the flip side, implementing these new electronic workflows will require changes in the way courthouse staff members work and, possibly, some reallocation of personnel. While automation within the new workflows will save time, getting courthouse staff up to speed on the new system and gauging what ripple effects the changes will have within county courthouse offices is a huge part of the slow march toward implementation. Training will be a huge component, and AOC is using pilot projects at the local level to develop training protocols to ease the transition from the paper world to the digital environment. Up to now, the clerks have been imaging many of their paper records for retention on microfilm, which saves them space, but some paper records remain in their offices awaiting their final disposition. Although back-scanning paper records to the new enterprise information management system might seem like a no-brainer, the staff time and equipment it would take to properly scan case files into an EIMS system might make that process cost-prohibitive. So, for the time being, many courthouses will be juggling multiple recordkeeping systems, as some records remain in paper, others are fully electronic, and high-value records continue to be imaged for microfilm.

The challenges associated with making the switch from paper recordkeeping to digital recordkeeping don’t begin or end there. AOC found that there was a significant learning curve as they began the process of researching the various software options they might choose to build their electronic records management system. They thought they’d start by selecting an EIMS system but realized later on that an early decision on one technology solution might restrict their choices when it came time to select other components, for instance, e-filing and redaction software. Earlier this year, AOC partnered with the National Center for State Courts to gather information from groups of clerks, judges, judicial support staff, and magistrates regarding the business needs for an integrated case management system including e-filing functionality and workflows for court processes. This effort resulted in the issuance of an RFP for an integrated case management system. AOC will be evaluating vendor responses over the course of the next few months.

The director of AOC, Marion Warren, has also announced a new governance structure for continued eCourts development, namely, an eCourts Advisory Committee. The eCourts Advisory Committee is comprised of judicial officials from across the state who will serve as subject-matter experts to make recommendations for eCourts development.[1] The eCourts Advisory Committee will play a critical role in defining the eCourts vision—creating a roadmap to what they would like the system to do and what component parts that vision would require.

Finally, recognizing that there will always be unknown unknowns and allowing the flexibility for new information to inform decision making has been key. As Elizabeth Croom, legal counsel for AOC, put it, “I know we’re going to learn more lessons.”[2] AOC has tried to limit the risk involved in that uncertainty by being proactive, trying to anticipate problems, and above all, focusing on the integrity and security of the public records in their care.

Throughout their work, AOC has used the Government Records Section here at the State Archives as a resource, and we have several online tools for state agencies planning to develop electronic records and imaging policies:

Questions? Contact your Records Management Analyst for a consultation.

[1] See https://juno.nccourts.org/news/ecourts-advisory-committee-appointed.

[2] Elizabeth Croom, pers. comm., March 15, 2018.

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