Throughout American history, circuit clerks have been responsible for receiving and filing massive volumes of legal documents, including civil and criminal complaints, legal briefs and every manner of court record. Across West Virginia, many circuit clerks have run out of room to store those documents.
Under a new e-filing system, being tested in 14 counties, attorneys will be able to file documents electronically from anywhere with Internet access. The greatest benefit to the new system, in addition to its convenience and cost savings, will be the freeing up of space inside county courthouses. Also, citizens will be able to access court records without coming to the courthouse.
In Pocahontas County – where storage space has become as scarce as anywhere else, Circuit Clerk Connie Carr is getting her office ready for the new system.
“The court is seeing a brand new, history making era coming – the Unified Judicial System,” Carr wrote. “Fourteen pilot counties have been chosen to begin an e-filing system that will eventually be paperless. Attorneys will file their paperwork online and pay online to file cases anywhere with Internet access. Litigants filing on their own behalf will walk in the clerk’s office, file their cases, pleadings, etcetera, and as soon as the documents are electronically scanned, they are shredded – meaning no more paper files.”
Carr reported that the West Virginia Supreme Court wants the 14 pilot counties operational with the e-filing system by the end of 2014, when the rest of the state will follow.
“My goal is to get all aspects of my office in order and be ready to go on the new Unified Judicial System,” Carr wrote. “Our county will soon follow the 14 pilot counties after any problems in those counties are worked out.”
The new e-filing system will mean no new incoming records to store. But the circuit clerk’s office is the repository of older records, dating back to 1822. Carr reported that her office is already in the process of digitizing those records.
“All records in the Circuit Clerk’s office have been scanned electronically from 1948 to the present, with back up in different secure locations,” she wrote. “A public terminal was installed in 2012 allowing public access to indexes. It has been upgraded now to allow access to images.”
This year, Carr wants to complete the scanning of older records, which date back to 1822 when Huntersville was the county seat, up to and including 1947.
Carr said new technology has allowed her and her staff to eliminate tedious recording duties.
“In October 2013, the Supreme Court allowed counties in West Virginia that are scanning to discontinue recording into record books,” she wrote. “Once a judge signed a court order, the order was taken through a long process by the clerk of paginating the pages and copying the same in a recording book, typing the case styling and reference number in an index in the record book and finally stamping the court’s order with the book and page number. In eliminating this process, counties across the state have saved thousands of dollars on expensive hard-bound recording books and employees have time for other duties. In my office, it has freed up a third of the time of an employee, who can be given other duties.”
Finally, Carr plans to reclaim even more space using traditional methods.
“By following the state record retention schedule, the main file room and overflow rooms have been cleaned and organized,” she wrote. “A new rolling file system was installed, provided by a grant written by me, allowing the space in one file room to hold at least two times more files than the existing files. Goal number one is to keep following the record retention schedule to acquire all extra space possible.”