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JTAC is on the way

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Clay County is well on its way to becoming a guinea pig, and Judge Ernest Yelton couldn't be happier about it.

A multimillion dollar software venture by Indiana's Judicial Technology and Automation Committee (JTAC) is set to use Clay County as its test market, even if the dates have been moved back.

"It's starting to heat up," Yelton said, referring to the process of installing the new filing software.

The judge said that the program is "realistically" slated to be implemented in the Clay County Courthouse by June 1. This is four months later than the initial date of Feb. 1.

Yelton called the software "revolutionary" in size and scope, claiming that it will, eventually, allow county governments around the state to link up with each other and various other government agencies. This gives the software several practical uses in everything from filing to case tracking.

It will also cut down on the work the courthouse's employees will have to do. For instance, a judge could use the software to search for a person's past criminal activity and outstanding warrants, lessening the chance of releasing someone wanted in another county.

None of this will happen for a long time, however. Clay is only the first of Indiana's 92 counties set to use the software. Yelton said that this was for a couple of reasons.

"They can start from scratch with us," Yelton said. "A lot of counties already have some kind of system implemented, and they need to get use out of them.

"We'll be the first county for an indefinite amount of time. After we're totally operational and they get the initial wave of bugs worked out, it will go from there."

The county has already purchased and installed a large part of the hardware needed to get the program going. Once the software is installed, the state will send eight or nine technical support employees to Clay County to monitor the software's success.

"Basically they're going to send people to watch over our shoulders and make sure everything's working right," he said.

The biggest stumbling blocks aren't significant.

"We've attended meetings with the JTAC people," he said. "There's been quite a lot of contact. We've found that some of the software our people are using will need to be integrated into the new software to make everything work right."

Examples of this include trust accounts from the Clerk's Office, which have balances that must be manually entered into the new system to make sure everything's correct.

New information could be entered into the system without a problem, but much of the information that is only "half-done" will need to be entered manually.

"Mary Brown has indicated that it won't be devastating to her department to have to do that, though," Yelton said.

Various county department heads who will be using the software have been herded into a steering committee, used to help define what the county needs in the software. Among the committee's members are Yelton, who chairs, Prosecutor David Thomas, and Mary Brown.

"Basically all the people who will be using it," Yelton said.

They have also been invited to the software's state-level steering committee. IT Director Scott Hill attends the meetings monthly as a representative of the county.

Yelton even has a hand in the programming of the software, telling the programmers what rulings need to be automatically included in the first version.

"The computer's not going to tell the judges what to do," he said. "Those rulings are basically going to be there to help them, for reference."

All in all, Yelton said that the attitude towards the new venture in the courthouse is good.

"The appropriate word is anxious... ready, but overwhelmed by all the responsibility," he said.

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