As the Indiana Legislature prepares to outline the state’s priorities when crafting the next biennial budget during the 2017 session, the Indiana Supreme Court is requesting a $3 million boost to support the future of court technology, one of the judiciary’s highest priorities.
Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush presented the court’s proposed budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 to the State Budget Committee Dec. 13, seeking a $3.3 million increase for e-filing, the Odyssey case management program and the INcite online application system. Rush requested $17.8 million total in court tech funding, with $7 million designated for e-filing costs, $6.3 million for Odyssey and $4.5 million for INcite applications and services.
The bulk of those funds, if allocated through the state’s general fund, would be used for the continued rollout of those three initiatives, Rush told the committee. Justice Steven David, who leads the judiciary’s court tech initiative along with Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias, said the court’s goal is to have 80 percent of new cases filed in the Odyssey case management system by December 2018. Additionally, Rush told the justices that the full implementation of e-filing across the state is set to be completed by 2018.
The conversion to electronic filing and Odyssey has already proven to be a cost-effective measure for taxpayers, attorneys and litigants alike, David said. When the state first began the conversion to Odyssey, the court purchased an unlimited license that negates the need for additional incremental costs in the future, he said. Instead, the per-user cost of Odyssey will continue to go down as more users sign up. So far, Odyssey is live in 255 courts and 59 counties across the state, with approximately 66 percent of all new cases filed in the digital case management system.
Similarly, there are already 10,000 registered e-filing users, Rush said during the budget presentation, with 30,000 filings each week.
The state isn’t the only entity benefitting financially from the transition to an electronic court system, David said. In addition to savings on paper costs, Odyssey and e-filing also led to savings in labor, and information housing and storage costs because information about litigants and cases is now kept online.
“It’s savings for lawyers, which is savings for clients, which is savings for counties, which is savings for the state,” David said. “Everybody is benefitting from that.”
Further, managing court documents electronically improves the state’s data collecting abilities, David said. In the past, if members of the state’s executive or legislative branch needed to gather data from the judicial branch to influence policy decisions, they were often forced to rely on anecdotal or incomplete data kept county to county. But with electronic records, judicial data can be stored in one place in a consistent manner across the state, making it easier for policymakers to gather the stats they need, the justice said.
Similarly, INcite — an extranet that houses all of the Supreme Court’s web-based applications — was designed as a collaborative effort with the legislative and executive branches to make their jobs easier, thus cutting down on taxpayer expenses, David said.
He pointed to the recent example of the Legislature’s requirement to develop a child abuse registry, a project that an outside agency estimated would cost state police roughly $2 million to complete. But using INcite in collaboration with the Supreme Court’s court technology office, the police were able to slash the price of developing the registry and reduce the cost to citizens.
Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, a longtime leader in Indiana budget and fiscal policy legislation and member of the State Budget Committee, told Indiana Lawyer after the committee meeting he understood that court technology is and will continue to be a high-demand area. He acknowledged the state would need to continue to support the growth of court tech initiatives, but also said the Legislature had to establish a limit as to how far its support can extend.
David said he and the rest of the court believe they have made their case as to why the $17.8 million court tech allocation is critical to moving the state further into the 21st century. Receiving a set sum of money to be used for court tech needs will enable the judiciary to more accurately plan for the future while also allowing the courts to show accountability and transparency with its funds, he said.
Additionally, Rush told the committee that, if desired, the court would revert the revenue it collects through filing, or automated record keeping, fees in 2017 back into the general fund to offset some of the court tech costs. Planning an annual appropriation is difficult, the chief justice said, because the court is limited to the ARK fees revenue for each year — revenue that is not fully known until the fiscal year has ended. Thus, if the ARK revenue falls one year, the judiciary encounters unforeseen cash flow issues.
But by asking for $17.8 million in fiscal years 2018 and 2019, David said the court would have more predictability because it would have a set sum of money it could use as a framework for the court tech budget. Then, if the ARK fee generates the expected $11 million in revenue it is anticipated to bring in during 2017, that money can be reverted back to the general fund to offset some of the court tech costs and leave the state to foot only $6.8 million.
“We’re not claiming that we want $17.8 million and we want to keep the ARK fee,” David said.
Kenley expressed some concerns about the Supreme Court’s proposed budget during the meeting, noting that two years ago it had received a 20 percent budget increase. At that time, Rush was still new to the job of chief justice, so Kenley said after the meeting the Legislature gave some deference to her vision for what kind of funding the court system would need to sustain its operations, especially considering her background as a trial court judge.
But this year, few, if any, state agencies will see such an increase, Kenley said, so it would be hard to justify another significant budget boost to the Supreme Court. However, the senator also acknowledged there are some mandated programs, such as court interpreters, which Rush also requested additional funding for, the state must support.
Aside from court technology, Rush’s budget proposal also included boosts to several court access programs, chief of which were the guardian ad litem and Court Appointed Special Advocate programs. Rush proposed a nearly $1.3 million boost to CASA and GAL funding in the coming fiscal years.•