By EVAN WADE
The "paper chase" is possibly one of the biggest complaints about Indiana's court system, but that won't be a concern for Clay County in the near future.
The Judicial Technology & Automation Committee (JTAC), after an exhaustive search spanning several counties in Indiana, has decided to bring a revolutionary new filing software to Clay County for testing purposes.
The software, which will eventually be used to streamline filing jobs done by various branches of Indiana government, will send all case files and other documents to a large database in Indianapolis.
"I've done 'roadshows' showing the software off to 28 counties, all of which showed high potential," Bob Mount, a JTAC field representative, said. "It was important that we could 'start from scratch,' so to speak, and Clay County was nearly perfect for our needs."
"We don't have the extra baggage of pre-existing software here," Clay County Judge Earnest Yelton said. "Like Bob said, we can just start from scratch here and test everything out. Since there's not much to replace or redo, we're not going to be a very big expenditure."
The software is set to be installed in the county by Feb. 1. In the meantime, various steps will be taken to ensure quick installation, including networking jobs and placement of new computer terminals.
"We want to make sure everything is done and ready by the first," Yelton said. "We're not taking this lightly. We need a few new computer terminals, for instance, I'll need one on my bench."
Yelton said that there will also be a computer available for public access to the system, though its content will be limited.
"If someone would want to go look up a specific case, they could," he said, "but they're not going to get full access. There will be firewalls up."
Six total counties will be testing and piloting the software, though Clay is first of all of them. Other counties that will receive the software in the near future are Morgan and Huntington, with secondary "backup" counties like White, Johnson, and Knox waiting in the wings.
Though the system will be rather costly, Mount made it clear that most taxpayers won't be sharing the burden of paying for it through taxes.
"Putting even a simple system in statewide can be very cost-prohibitive," he said. "But with every case filed in Indiana, there will be a special "filing tax" added to the cost. This way the system is funded only by those who will be using it."
He continued that while he didn't know the exact cost the software would bear on the state in the end, he did say that it will "be in the millions" when installed statewide.
While the final decision did come down to JTAC, it took action from Clay County to secure its spot as the testing ground.
"In the entire history of the Indiana Judicial System, this is huge," Yelton said. "I can say with complete confidence that when it's all said and done, Indiana will have the most technologically advanced network system for its counties in the country."
Mount acknowledges the importance of Clay County being selected.
"It's really an honor to be selected for this," Mount said. "It's a big deal. The extra work Clay County did and the general knowledge of the staff made the decision a lot easier for us."
Though installation will be a major challenge, both parties believe it will be worth it. The software will eliminate many of the hassles involved with filing paperwork, making things run more smoothly and much more efficiently.
Mount mentioned that at some offices, a single document must be signed seven times through seven different desks before it is finalized.
"All departments of any given office working on the same system will be great," he continued. "It's all about efficiency and connectivity."
He also said that the system will drastically cut down the time it takes to suspend or reinstate a driver's license.
"And that's just one example of 100," he explained.
The system will be implemented statewide in three to four years, though it will be operational as soon as Clay County is wired. Clay County workers will be able to access other county information when those counties go online.
Some counties have spent several thousand dollars on new software already, Mount said, and they need to get their money's worth out of them before moving on.
The software, which is being designed by Computer Associates, the world's fourth largest software supplier, could potentially make the streets safer for residents as well. Yelton said that if a subject comes before him and has a previous warrant, he will know instantly.
"If they're wanted somewhere else, they're not getting anywhere," Yelton said. "It literally tells me in big red letters if there's another warrant out for the person or not."
Mount said that the tentative plan is to install the software in adjacent counties for this reason, as it will be the most helpful for those involved.
"We're honored to have been selected," Yelton said, "and to say it again, we're not taking the burden lightly. This is being grown from the bottom up, and we're the proverbial 'guinea pig.'"