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MUNICIPAL COURT Software will link court records



Published: Sat, January 29, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The new computer system was paid for with court costs and a grant.

YOUNGSTOWN -- As it stands, there's no effective way for Youngstown Municipal Court to know if defendants have cases pending in other courts, the clerk says.

That's going to change -- the goal is this year -- with CourtView, a new computer system up and running in municipal court as part of Phase 1. In Phase 2, access to other courts' records will be established.

Clerk of Court Sarah Brown-Clark said the judges and Laura McLaughlin, court administrator, took the lead in obtaining the system. CourtView is being provided by Maximus, a national court software and case management system that is used throughout Ohio. Maximus is based in North Canton. CourtView replaces a computer system used since 1998.

"This is definitely a progressive step in the right direction," Brown-Clark said. "It will allow us to link to other courts and go up on a Web site for public access."

Privacy concerns

Brown-Clark said technology in the courts is changing rapidly and privacy issues must be addressed before records are put online. She said there is an ongoing controversy because records are available at the clerk's office for the public to view.

"Privacy issues are still being hashed out," the clerk said. "It all needs to be ironed out before we go online."

Common pleas courts in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, the juvenile and county courts in Mahoning County and others will eventually be able to share data, McLaughlin said.

A central depository for Ohio court records is also being discussed, Brown-Clark said.

Also, in this era of homeland security, it's important to know that a person arrested in Youngstown committed a murder in Texas, for example, McLaughlin said. Linking courts nationwide means judges can easily find out defendants' past history, she said.

Courtroom computers

Judges, who have computers on the bench, now use them for video arraignments and to check defendants' prior municipal court cases. They'll later have access to defendants' records in other local courts, she said.

"The judges want to be able to see the history of a case on the screen and do journal entries electronically," McLaughlin said.

Darryl Anderson, municipal clerk of court computer technician, said CourtView is not necessarily easier to use but more data can be entered, accuracy is improved and entry errors can be discovered faster. He said all of a defendant's cases will appear once a name is entered.

Cost of CourtView was roughly $300,000, McLaughlin said. It was paid for with a $81,000 Ohio Criminal Justice grant and defendants' court costs.

The money was used to buy 40 new computers, upgrade others and for software, the court administrator said.

Backup records

Brown-Clark said all the records are safely stored with backups and the CourtView technology will eliminate some costs associated with paper and storage. "It's cost effective and efficient."

The clerk of court said retention of files -- placement on microfilming -- was 20 years behind when she took over in January 2000. The gap has closed to roughly 10 years, she said.

"Even as we catch up, we end up adding more because there are more filings every day," she said. "If we can get that equipment on our counter, then we can work that from both ends, the old ones and the new ones."

She also likes the idea that the CourtView technology's add-ons, "the bells and whistles," include software for collections.

"That's why I'm saying, even as we celebrate this [CourtView], we still have a long way to go," Brown-Clark said. "The potential is almost unbelievable -- there are so many options."




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