Computer look at courts might have to wait year

Published 11:28 am Thursday, September 6, 2012

Expanded public access to court records in criminal cases filed in Warren County might have to wait at least one more budget year, despite the stated goal of the Mississippi Supreme Court’s chief justice.

A pilot program started in 2008 has enabled public access to chancery court records filed in Warren, Harrison, Madison and DeSoto counties as part of the Mississippi Electronic Courts system. No criminal cases from the four active counties in the test have been scanned into the paperless system. The system allows people to search court records online without being in the courthouse.

Moving “out of pilot phase” means scanning criminal cases, and that should be doable in Warren County by year’s end, state Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller told the Vicksburg Lions Club Wednesday, the second time he’s discussed the topic in Vicksburg in eight days. The chief justice spoke to the Warren County Bar Association Aug. 28, but this time acknowledged the challenges are technical.

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“Warren County has been a good partner,” Waller said. “We’ve had to work a little bit with the IT here.”

None of the five computers connected to the county’s main server for searching land and court records is dedicated to the electronic courts system. That step, however, would streamline the process of scanning civil cases. A new server installed in February supports separate platforms for land and court records.

Waller said more than 12,000 briefs have been filed in the system since 2010. When fully implemented, the public will be able to search most court cases; some, such as domestic violence cases, might edit personal information of case parties.

Extra pay for additional duties or personnel would be necessary in the chancery and circuit clerk offices to start scanning civil and criminal cases, something for which no money appears in the budget Warren County supervisors will discuss in a public hearing at 9 a.m. Monday. A vote is expected to follow immediately.

“Right now, we don’t have the extra money,” said Board President Bill Lauderdale, who heard Waller’s speech, along with District 5 Supervisor Richard George. Both sat in as guests of a club member. “It’s really still in its beginning phases.”

An additional $6,600 in the chancery clerk’s projected budget this year reflects higher retirement contributions. The draft shows $90,750 in general fund money for the circuit clerk’s office. The figure includes an extra $400 for the circuit clerk for new office supplies, including a copier, a scanner and a printer.