Not unlike other court systems across the United States, case files in the 13th Judicial Circuit of Florida generate an abundance of documents — judges' orders, court transcripts, appeals notices, and so on. The proliferation of paper can pose a few significant challenges. Fortunately, the 13th Judicial Circuit of Florida was proactive in its approach to solving these challenges by identifying and implementing a document management solution.
The first challenge for the 13th Judicial Circuit came in the form of inefficient and inadequate physical storage space. "The court was accumulating boxes of documents that we would stack in rooms wherever we could find space," says Abdiel Ortiz, chief technology officer for the 13th Judicial Circuit. "Real estate isn't cheap, and for that reason, we didn't want to occupy most of our available office space with thousands of file boxes." Just as important as a lack of physical space was the time spent searching for files stored in these boxes. It could take several hours, and often days, to locate and sort through boxes in order to find specific documents needed for a case. According to Ortiz, having case files stored throughout the courthouse also caused angst in terms of disaster recovery, since the court records could easily be destroyed if there was ever a disaster like a fire or flood.
The second challenge came in the form of time and labor costs. For example, Ortiz relates that the 13th Judicial Circuit has an abundance of child support cases. Each order (preliminary ruling) from these cases would be taken to the administrative assistant in the hearing office, where a copy would be made as a backup in case the original was lost. The original was then taken to a judge for review and signature. The signed order was then carried back to the hearing office where another four copies would be made, one for the child support enforcement office, one for the attorney general, one for the department of revenue, and one additional copy to keep for safekeeping until the ruling was actually docketed by the court clerk. These copies were then mailed to the appropriate departments. "Of course, you can imagine all that took time, not to mention the complexities of having to mail multiple copies," says Ortiz. "In the case of something getting lost in the mail, staff was forced to pull the file, make another copy, send more mail, and then refile."
SIMPLIFY YOUR DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT STRATEGY
When the 13th Judicial Circuit began looking for a solution to the challenges caused by working in a paper-intensive environment, it was looking for something that could be used across multiple departments and could be implemented without intensive training. "Many of the document management platforms we looked at were more complex than what we needed," says Ortiz. "We wanted something that could offer an electronic file cabinet structure that could closely mirror the paper filing structure that our people already understood." After evaluating a handful of vendors over the course of a few years, an integrated solution of Xerox MFPs and Xerox DocuShare document management software was selected.
As soon as the DocuShare installation was complete, the 13th Judicial Circuit began to tackle its storage and disaster recovery challenges through backfile conversion. Old case files were scanned into DocuShare box by box, opening up valuable office space as the project progressed. While the backfile conversion continues, current case files are being scanned by the court business center, somewhat like a mini FedEx Kinko's within the court, on a daily basis. Over 10,000 case files have been scanned since January 2008. On average, it takes staff in the court business center less than two hours per week to keep up with current scanning demand.
File accessibility concerns were also eliminated once the DocuShare solution was put into place. Departments and individual users within the court are benefiting from the ability to have access to needed documents right at their fingertips. Once documents have been scanned into DocuShare, authorized users can access the document repository and search by index values such as judge's name, plaintiff, defendant, or date to find the desired documents rather than digging through file drawers.
Finally, the most impressive results to date have been felt in the child support order process, where physical copy and mail demands have been completely eliminated. The hearing officer still writes the order, but it is taken to the judge for signature and then immediately scanned into DocuShare. No additional copies are made, because once scanned, the order is automatically distributed to the various other agencies involved. Agencies within the court can receive via email, and agencies outside the court can receive a faxed copy of the document sent directly from the MFP. A process that used to take 45 minutes or more to copy and mail now takes only 5 minutes. In fact, since January 2008, the need to make nearly 48,000 photocopies has been eliminated, equating to more than 2,000 hours of saved labor time.