Legislature gives Supreme Court bump in funding

Court technology and several other court programs got a boost in the latest state biennial budget, including an additional $5.9 million to fund, in part, key initiatives for Hoosiers, such as court appointed special advocate programs.

The Indiana Supreme Court made its case to the Legislature for extra funding to support court technology, child advocacy and veterans programs within the judiciary, and is now charting a course toward expanding those programs throughout the state.

The three programs that received the most additional dollars in the 2017-2019 state biennial budget were programs that Chief Justice Loretta Rush felt were most important to the lives of Hoosiers, said Mary Willis, chief administrative officer of the court’s Office of Judicial Administration. Expansion of court technology in particular was among the judiciary’s top priorities, with a focus on the continued growth of the e-filing, Odyssey and INcite programs.

To support that growth, the Legislature allocated $16.5 million in Fiscal Year 2018 and $17.5 million in FY19 for court technology needs. With those funds, Willis said the high court hopes to reach its goal of expanding e-filing to each of Indiana’s 92 counties by the end of 2018. Expansion of the Odyssey platform is on a similar timetable, she said, with a goal of 85 percent of all new cases being filed through Odyssey by December 2018.

Further, the court technology allocation will support the services offered through INcite, an extranet that houses the Supreme Court’s web-based applications, such as the Protection Order Registry, the Guardianship Registry and the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx.

In her budget proposals before the General Assembly last winter, Rush offered a method for the judiciary to offset the cost of the additional technology allocations: reverting the revenue collected through the automated record keeping fee in 2017 back into the general fund. The ARK filing fee is included in the budget’s plans for the judiciary, but rather than reverting, Willis said the ARK filing fee will be a permanent fee that avoids fluctuation.

Given the trend toward an increasingly digital society, Willis said members of the bar and the public have come to expect to be able to access court documents, case information or court financial information from the comfort of their personal computers. Through the work of the court’s Task Force on Remote Access to and Privacy of Electronic Court Records, the judiciary has been able to take steps toward meeting those expectations, she said. And with the additional dollars allocated specifically for court technology needs, the judiciary can continue to make access to court documents an easy and efficient process.

budget-factbox.gif“You no longer have to take off work to find these documents, and I think that’s an expectation that’s growing across the country to more readily access documents electronically,” Willis said.

Aside from court technology, court advocacy programs such as guardians ad litem, court-appointed special advocates and veterans courts were also top priorities for the judiciary in the 2017 biennial budget. The General Assembly allocated roughly $6.3 million for GAL/CASA programs for both FY18 and FY19 — up from $2.97 million per year in the previous budget — and $1 million per year specifically devoted to veterans courts.

Through the additional veterans courts funding, Willis said the goal is to expand the program to each of Indiana’s 26 judicial districts to reach veterans across the state. The need for veterans court services is amplified in Indiana due to the fact that the state has the country’s fourth-largest National Guard, which means an increasing number of Hoosier servicemen and women could be called into active duty, said Judge David Certo, who presides over the Indianapolis Veterans Court.

When those guardsmen and women return home as veterans, they are likely to encounter unforeseen problems, such as addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses, Certo said. Often, the veterans who come through his courtroom are battling a combination of such issues.

Treating those issues through veterans court is a continuous process that takes many months to effectively complete, he said. Through the additional funding, the General Assembly helped ensure the veterans who are enrolled in the court program will be able to complete their treatment to the full extent.

“If we were only funded for 11 months, we’re not making much of an offer to keep our promises,” Certo said. “We can’t keep the promise without direct support.”

Similarly, the additional GAL/CASA funding is meant to provide better training and resources to local county volunteers, Willis said. Also, the state is considering a new pilot program designed to encourage county-level collaboration among CASA programs, said Coleen Connor, executive director of the Tippecanoe County CASA program.

The pilot program is based on the premise that the CASA tools and tactics that work in Marion County might not work in Tippecanoe County or other areas of the state, Connor said. Through a collaborative effort at the county level, local CASA entities can discover the kinds of resources that work to the greatest benefit of their local children, she said.

The judiciary employs other youth-oriented programs, such as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and dual status legislation, which focuses on meeting the needs of youth who are affected by both juvenile delinquency and child in need of services proceedings, Willis said. Through those programs, coupled with stronger GAL/CASA initiatives, Willis said the state will be able to provide better and increased services to the youth who find themselves in the legal system.

“We want to build those together and use all those tools and our dual status legislation initiative and begin to bring those together for kids in the welfare system using evidence-based practices,” she said.

The court technology and advocacy programs were the Supreme Court’s top priorities for the 2017 biennial budget, and the Supreme Court is satisfied it received funding to address those needs. But Willis said the court still struggles to find adequate funding for the Coalition for Court Access. The biennial budget does stipulate that $500,000 must be taken out of the overall trial court operations budget each fiscal year for court interpreters, funding that is particularly important when courts encounter litigants or witnesses who do not speak English as their primary language, she said.

Sometimes, the need for an interpreter can arise at the last minute, Willis said, which is why the judiciary is trying a new video remote interpreting service that can be transported to a courtroom and hooked up to existing hardware to provide interpretation services from anywhere in the country.•

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