Juggling Public Record Requests – Keep Those Balls in the Air

 

Tim Zarzycki, Senior Account Executive, ImageSoft, Inc.

iStock_000011704687_MediumAmong the multitude of daily tasks performed by court clerks is responding to public requests for records. These records include case files, dockets/summaries of court cases and courtroom proceedings, records about defendants, criminal records, and long email threads, often with photos and videos attached. In addition to explaining court actions and decisions, these records are generally accessible to the public based on state sunshine laws, open records laws or public records laws. In an era of greater scrutiny and demands for transparency, clerks need better ways to handle public record requests.

It’s a juggling act that gets more complicated by the day.

Day-to-day challenges

Giving the public its right of access to public records can be a cumbersome challenge for paper-based courts or courts working without an integrated case management system. It clogs operations and requires scarce resources. In addition to coordinating and maintaining the case file associated with such requests, courts also face such challenges as:

  • Siloed data and documents in each department with incompatible formatting — hunting down documents from multiple departments, locations and filing cabinets puts a burden on government staff and leads to lengthy fulfillment cycles
  • Challenges of tracking and distributing requests, reviewing long email chains, making phone calls and hunting down documents; most tracking systems are spreadsheets that require manual data entry which further consumes staff time
  • Need for a consistent layout for the request packet
  • Need to maintain correspondence with requestor, additional departments
  • Inconsistent/poorly defined request methods
  • Audit trail requirements
  • Protocols for redaction
  • Retention times/discard times/destruction processes with certificates of destruction
  • Fee collection processes
  • Statutory deadlines for providing public records
  • Document security

The right solution

JusticeTech’s public records solutions create a complete package to manage the full scope of public records needs, helping courts meet their legal responsibilities for transparency and open government initiatives. The solutions help court clerks and staff retrieve and bundle documents to meet record requests, provide self-service access to documents and records, automate the request process and redact confidential information. These solutions:

  • Simplify request submission and delivery for constituents
  • Provide comprehensive search for complete request fulfillment
  • Improve process transparency and reporting for better constituent service

Read more about automating request for public records and keep that juggling act in the air.

How are you managing public requests for court records?

 

Channeling Ben Hogan: How eFiling Helps Improve Court Data Entry

One of the classic urban legends of golf goes like this:  An amateur once asked, I believe, Ben Hogan, “How can I increase my percentage of one-putts?”   To which Hogan famously replied, “Hit your approach shot close to the hole.”

59_ben hogan

With that broad hint, consider the following trick question:

Question: What is the best strategy for managing court data entry?

Answer:  A) Improve speed.

                B) Improve accuracy.

                C) Reduce Cost.

                D) None of the above

                E) All of the above (including “D”)

The correct answer, of course, is E.  The best strategy for managing court data entry is — Stop doing it.

Hogan’s point was not that there aren’t better ways to make a putting stroke.  And you can believe Hogan knew them all.  His point was, the object of the game is not to hole long putts.  The object is to hit fewer strokes.  Improve your putting stroke all you can; it’s still not as good as having a gimmee after your approach shot.

Likewise, while there are lots of ways to improve court data entry, the objective is to get the information into the court’s data base in a timely manner with as little effort, cost, and chance of error as possible.  In golf, if you can get the ball in the hole without putting (as, say, with a hole-in-one), that’s considered pretty darn good.  For courts, getting data into data bases without data entry is also pretty darn good.

Enter robust, full-featured electronic filing with workflow.  I don’t have to take a position on the question of what constitutes the best or most important aspect of court e-filing.  In golf, some golfers need work on their long game; some on their wedges, etc.  For some courts, cost savings will be most important; for some it will be speed and efficiency; for some it may even be raising revenue by charging attorneys, who benefit greatly from being able to e-file.   I certainly do not minimize the importance of these and numerous other benefits.  But whatever the primary benefit, removing the data entry burden from court staff unarguable gets the ball closer to if not in the hole.

When correctly implemented, e-filing constitutes a win-win situation when it comes to data management.  In today’s world, virtually every document that is filed (at least by attorneys) is created in electronic format.   Thus, just for starters, the e-filer does not (absent anachronistic rules; a topic for another day) need to print out copies to file.  While it may be necessary to enter address, type, and other meta-data in particular places to effect e-filing, this is NOT meta-data that the filer wasn’t already entering in the first place.  In other words, the tasks on the front end may look different (to the extent they are still necessary); but they are not additional or new.

On the court (receiving) end, though, the difference is dramatic.  E-filing with workflow can reduce the court staff’s data entry tasks to quality control — analogous to a six-inch putt instead of a thirty-footer.

Over the past several years, many courts have followed a “staged” approach to implementing Electronic Content Management (ECM) in which the first stage is to move internally to ECM while still receiving filed documents as paper, then scanning them into the court’s ECM system.  As an implementation strategy, this often makes a lot of sense.  It’s sort of like learning to get real good at “lag” putting, to leave the long putts close to the hole.

For such courts, moving quickly on to e-filing should be a top priority.  You’ve mastered the game; now start leaving the ball next to the hole on your approach shot.