Circuit Court goes digital

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

In an effort to streamline the judicial system of West Virginia, the Su-preme Court of Appeals of West Virginia is implementing a project known as WV E-File/CourtPLUS. This project sees all circuit court files – old and new – for all 55 counties uploaded to a new program which all circuit clerks can access.

The effort began in 2016 and on September 8, 2020, the Pocahontas County Circuit Court went live on the new program.

Prior to this initiative, each county was responsible for finding a program to utilize as a filing system for all court files. This process was not only problematic for sharing files, but also very costly to the counties.

“Basically all the counties in West Virginia were doing their own court system,” Pocahontas County Circuit Clerk Connie Carr said. “Each county was paying contract fees for these court programs. So the Supreme Court wanted to get a unified system that is the same across all the counties.”

The Supreme Court is supplying the software and all the computers for the circuit court offices of the state. It is also providing a digital court file repository – or back-up – known as the vault.

Carr said Pocahontas County was paying between $6,000 and $8,000 a year for the filing system contract and will now be able to save that money, thanks to the WV E-File/CourtPLUS program.

“They’re going to save millions because of the contract fees themselves,” Carr said. “Then it’s much easier for everybody to access records. Plus, there will be no more paper files. Attorneys will be filing from their end. We won’t create a file unless it’s for a person in family court. We’ll have pro se people that won’t have attorneys, and we’ll file it in. That’s going to save on storage space.”

The Supreme Court transferred and scanned all of Pocahontas County’s Circuit Court files to the system, and the interface allows the clerk’s office easy access to all files.

With the new interface, Carr said there is a learning curve, and fortunately, the Supreme Court provided two weeks of virtual training to get the office up to speed.

“Once we learn it, I think it will be fine,” she said. “It’s a lot more steps than our old one right now, and we’re not familiar enough with it, so we’re kind of hunting. They transferred all of the records over, but we have a lot of stuff that we’ve got to fix because the system was an old DOS system and this one, of course, is streamlined, so some things didn’t match. Now we have the problem of fixing that.”

Along with archiving the records for each county on the same program, the system also allows counties to access one another’s files when there are multiple counties involved in a case.

The system will also be more accessible to the public. At this time, there is one public terminal in the circuit court office which the public is allowed to use to access files, but Carr said in a few months, the public will be able to access the system online.

“Eventually, in the next few months, they’re going to have that open to where the public can access everything they have on there,” Carr said.

This includes records from the history of Pocahontas County courts which were preserved through a contract. Those records continue to be scanned and preserved with the help of a grant from the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History.

“They came in and contracted a group for us, and they scanned 1945 up to 2020,” Carr said. “They put the stuff on an outside hard drive for us to use, and the Supreme Court is now trying to go through that, putting the information on the vault for the public.

“We have Rebecca Clayton working on the records,” Carr continued. “I have a grant through the cultural center to pay her salary for her work. She’s doing the 1800 records. It starts at 1822 and she’s going up to 1854. It’s very, very, very interesting.”

Those records will be added to the program, as well as the vault to allow the clerk and public access to the past.

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