It will be 18 months to two years before Kane County is able to fully implement the court case management system it approved unanimously at Tuesday’s County Board meeting. It’s going to cost $6.7 million, and a lot of its primary functionality involves the behind-the-scenes government stuff that’s not generally 72-point-headline material.
And yet, the opinions expressed Tuesday by public officials were almost passionate.
“I’d like to recognize the many thousands of hours that went into this,” County Board member Phil Lewis said prior to Tuesday’s vote. “I view this investment to be one of the most significant I’ve been a part of since I’ve been on the board. It’s going to significantly improve (court services.) I congratulate the stakeholders, and I congratulate this board.”
Sixth District board member Ron Ford offered similar point of view.
“I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of this commission, and it’s awesome to see them work together and stay on track,” he said. “Kane County should be very proud. I know it’s a big number, but it’s a minor cost for all the positive things it’s going to bring to our county.”
County Board attorney Patrick Kinnally rarely comments at board meetings except to offer a legal opinion. But he commented on Tuesday.
“I’ve tried a lot of cases in Kane County, and this is a huge deal in terms of providing to the citizens of Kane County access to justice,” he said. “As a former president of the Bar Association, I applaud Chief Judge (Judith) Brawka for getting this done.”
OK, So What Will This Court Case Management System Do?
In the cosmic scheme of the universe, it’s difficult to explain why the court case management system Kane County is embarking on is so important.
But Brawka and Kane County Circuit Clerk Tom Hartwell explained it well in a brief interview after Tuesday’s vote.
“The court management system is going to change the way that, not only the clerk of the Circuit Court keeps and maintains the records, but also the way records are generated, produced and made accessible to the public.
“It will mean improvements in all areas.
“We cannot yet go on our own to a paperless system — the Supreme Court regulates that — but this system certainly has the ability to help us move into a paperless system seamlessly if it is approved. And it will improve our ability to go into electronic filing, which will happen before we go into a paperless system. That is definitely on the horizon.
“The system I believe meets the circuit clerk’s needs, and it improves the functioning of justice for the judges in the courtroom by giving us more and better access to information and allows the public to have that same access in easier and more-varied ways.
“I don’t believe there’s a person in that (Kane County Board) room who didn’t have an electronic device with them in a pocket or looking at a tablet. And this is going to improve that ability.”
“We have 31 million records right now that are digitized, and what this system does is help us organize it better. Also, because we acted cooperatively, the communication between courts, the public defender and the state’s attorney are going to be improved, as well.
“As you imagine, (with) the information that’s passed back and forth every single day — the fact that we can do it electronically improves the quality of the records. My records will be the same as the court’s records (which) will be the same as the public defender’s — so that we have that accuracy.
“Also, the free flow of information that comes from the court, I get it quickly and accurately. Those things are very, very big issues.”
“For example, if you have a simple thing like a traffic ticket.
“In the past, the traffic ticket was written on a piece of paper by a police officer. And then the police officer who filled in and wrote that information filed it with the clerk, who then had to manually enter all of that information. And then if the traffic ticket was serious enough, like a driving-under-the-influence charge, the state’s attorney would get a physical copy of that, and they would have to enter that information in their own files. And the public defender could be appointed to represent the defendant, and they would have to enter the information in their own files.
“So you would have a minimum of three individuals typing out the same information — and a fourth if you include the person who wrote it, the police officer.
“With the new case management system, there’s one entry of information. And then with the push of a button, everyone else gets it. … It saves those multiple steps which now take man-hours and days to occur. (Those steps) will now be completed within a very short period of time.
“Resources can be put to the more-needed work rather than the repetitive data entry.”
“Say there is a traffic DUI. I need to report that to the secretary of state.
“Let’s say someone’s driver’s license says ‘John Smith,’ and the officer writes that name down. So I go to report that to the Secretary of State’s Office, and it’s (recorded by the Secretary of State’s Office as) ‘John A Smith.’ They go, ‘We don’t have a John Smith.’ And then we have to do this additional work in order to clarify. Now it will get done right the first time. In fact, they’ll be able to take that driver’s license, swipe it, and get the name accurately the first time.”
“It should be able to get the information into a format where it is accessed quicker. So that someone can pay their ticket online faster. There also should be a shorter turnaround time. Right now, it takes about four days to process a file for an order of protection. It gives us an immediacy for the production of files and an appearance in court on matters that really count.”
“Let’s say there is an order of protection. Someone comes in and they have a complaint against someone, and they’re feared for their safety. And a judge issues an order. What happens now is, when it happens electronically, it can pass through the system and get off to the sheriff very quickly. And many times we can have that other party who is accused of wrongdoing served before that person gets home. And that’s what’s great about this system.
“Now, the legal system is meant to move slowly. It’s to be thoughtful. But in certain circumstances, yes, we can use that speed to benefit the public.”
When Will Kane County See the Benefits?
Hartwell said the installation of the technology and the necessary checking and double-checking of document information are some of the reasons the project will take 18 months to two years, but the preparation time will be invaluable.
“We’d like to start tomorrow, if possible,” he said. “But the key is good preparation. Abraham Lincoln said if he had eight hours to cut down a tree, he’d spend four hours sharpening his ax. That means good preparation is important to any big project ahead of you.”