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Justice: Fee hike could mean statewide case management system by 2017

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Indiana Lawyer Rehearing

If lawmakers during the next legislative session increase a statewide court fee an extra $3, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan believes the state can fully implement a case management system in all county courts by June 30, 2017.

That would be slightly less than a decade since Indiana’s judiciary hired a Texas company to implement the statewide system known as Odyssey – longer than the original six-year time period expected back in 2002, but it’s expected to cost less than the $92 million originally estimated.

Justice Sullivan briefed the Commission on Courts today about the progress in the past year since his last update and prepared them for what’s needed to move the project forward.

“The reason good technology costs so much is because the economic and intangible benefit is so great,” he said during his nearly two-hour presentation, which highlighted the project’s successes and emphasized that Indiana is standing out nationally because of this type of technology.

Since Tyler Technologies came on board with its Odyssey system in December 2007, more than 62 courts in nearly two-dozen counties have signed onto the public-access system – roughly 25 percent of the state’s total caseload.

The prime source of funding for the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee project, which Justice Sullivan chairs, is an automated fee generated in certain cases throughout the state. Lawmakers first put the fee in place in 2002, starting at $2 then increasing it to $5 the next year, before the current rate of $7 went into effect several years ago. As of last month, the court fees had brought in $55.7 million and JTAC has spent that amount, Justice Sullivan reported.

How the JTAC efforts move forward depend largely on the funding and resources, Justice Sullivan said.

During the past year, members of the General Assembly have publicly questioned the financial wisdom of spending so much money on this JTAC project. Proposed hikes in the automated record-keeping fee in the past two sessions haven’t gained enough support to become law, though the Commission on Courts has twice approved the increase to help pay for the case management system.

Justice Sullivan prepared this report on the heels of those concerns, and he noted that JTAC has also complied with mandates put in place last year: to track courts’ mental health adjudications for federal firearms databases; for connecting protective order registries and prosecutors’ offices; and county court case management systems.

He also noted that JTAC is working with the state Department of Revenue about possible tax-refund interception for any unpaid court costs, something similar to what the state agency already does with unpaid child support and license or permit reviews.

Justice Sullivan also discussed how people involved with the Odyssey implementation are contributing economically to the state by using local businesses, and that JTAC is interested in discussing potential revenue-generating ideas with the other branches of government.

At today’s meeting, Johnson County Clerk Jill Jackson was the only commission member voicing opposition to the JTAC project funding. She was the sole vote against a similar proposal last year when the commission voted 9-1 in favor of the fee increase, and she echoed the same concerns now on grounds that private vendors offering these systems don’t receive state funding and could go out of business.

Members didn’t vote on the fee increase but will likely do that at the commission’s final meeting next month.

The commission also heard requests from Johnson, Bartholomew, Hamilton, and Allen county officials for new judicial officers, converting courts, and changing a court official’s status.
 

Rehearing "Plugging in trial courts" IL Aug. 19-Sept. 1, 2009

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