By June of this year, District Court Administrator Leesa McNeil, of the Third Judicial District Court of Iowa, hopes to have the 3A district switched over to the Electronic Document Management System, a system that both allows court professionals and citizens to file claims electronically and allows the court to maintain and access files from a digital record.
"It will save people from having to go to the courthouse," McNeil said. "We've found people now file at night and weekends, and it makes the court more accessible."
"Many of our filers and small claims work in jobs where they get paid by the hour," Judicial Branch Director of IT Ken Bosier said. "When they have to deal with the court, they have to take time off of work and they don't get paid for the time they take off."
District 3A - a 10-county district - will follow both District Two and District 3B in the change from paper to electronic files. Once each district is completed, Iowa will become the first state in the nation to implement a state-wide electronic filing system.
"The federal courts have had an e-filing system for some time," McNeil said, "but they don't get the volume of the state court system."
In addition, the EDMS system will allow court professionals to view all court professionals involved in a claim to view the information simultaneously. This, McNeil stated, will "make it more efficient for the court to share files."
The project, mandated by the state, was scheduled for five years and budgeted for $19 million. Already in its fourth year, Bosier estimates that to completely implement the EDMS will take longer than expected, though the cost should be relatively accurate. He noted the money is largely being spent on additional hardware for the clerks, as well as software development and licensing. In addition, contract staff has been hired to provide training for attorneys, law enforcement and other court professionals."
"We're trying to help everyone ease into this transition," Bosier said.
"All of the feedback has been positive," McNeil said. "Sometimes there needs to be some different programming, but those are just small speed bumps on the larger highway."
Those who do not have access to a computer may file an exception from e-filing. Their paperwork will then be scanned by a clerk and their notice mailed back as a hard copy.
"We're here to help, not to hinder," Bosier said. "The court system is here to increase access to justice, not stifle it."
While the transition may take a bit of time, Bosier is confident that the overall benefits will outweigh the limitations.
"This is where we're headed," he said. "And we've tried to make it as easy as possible."
Clay County will likely begin the transition into EDMS in February. The option to file electronically will be located on iowacourts.gov.