State court system outdated, wasteful


The problem is that the state's court system is basically stuck in the 1980s. It is still very much paper-based, and where computers are used, they are on an old mainframe system.  

It's not just money that's being wasted, there's also a lot of time and energy being spent that most agree doesn't have to be considering all the technology that's out there.

Getting a ticket has gone high-tech. These days, officers can get it from their computers to the courthouse in seconds. However, after that the process becomes very much low-tech.

"You can tell by watching our process that it is very manual, very hands on," said Wake County Clerk of Court Lorrin Freeman.

Freeman showed ABC11 what it takes to get that ticket in front of a judge.

"Each of those individually has to be folded, placed inside a shuck, what we keep those cases in," said Freeman. "A date has to be hand written. We handwrite the date that the case is set in court, and handwrite the file number off of this case onto that shuck."

On this day, nearly 1,000 e-citations had to be printed out.

"We literally have to manually go through and sort them to divide them into our various courtrooms," said Freeman. "Again, very labor intensive. Then those cases have to be alphabetized, and that's just to get a case from the doorway to the courtroom."

Last year, 165,000 criminal cases were resolved in Wake County. If you lined these shucks (packets) starting at the Wake County Courthouse, you'd get to Durham's courthouse and keep on going.  That's just for last year. State law requires every case is kept on file for at least five years.

More than one million files are waiting to be moved to the new Wake County Courthouse. They take up more than a linear mile of storage space.

"You can look at this and tell what a problem it would be if something was misfiled," said Freeman. "How would you ever find anything if something were misfiled? If something gets misfiled, you can imagine it's chaos."

It's not just the piles of paper causing problems.

"Sometimes people come here from the general public, and they're like, 'Hey', ah, scratching their heads, 'Do you guys know how to operate this,'" said Raleigh lawyer Fabio Ortiz.

Ortiz says many of his clients have no idea how to access court records. Especially when they check out the computer screen which reads "command prompt only."

"This is not the Cloud. This is very far from even, you know, Windows," said Freeman. "It is how they did it 30 years ago. Largely, the things, at least from the courthouse door, on this side, has changed very little. In fact, we are still using the criminal case database that was implemented and put into place here in 1986."

"Everything should be scanned," said Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, who is a lawyer. "It's just ridiculous what we do."

Goolsby has spent years pushing for updated court technology.

"We don't even take credit cards. We're still back in the 1800s," said Goolsby. "You know, bring gold bullion or cash.  It's ridiculous, but that's where we are and we've got to fix that and there's been no emphasis so far."

As always, Goolsby says it comes down to money.

"We were told it was too expensive," said Goolsby. "I don't believe it would cost us any money.  In fact it would save us money."

"The ability to walk in and pay for something with a debit card or a credit card," said Freeman. "How many people you know that still carry cash?"

Freeman, Goolsby and just about everyone else we talked to agrees. It's a matter of paying now or over paying for years to come.

"I think at some point the state has to decide are we going to continue to invest in increased numbers of personnel, or are we going to look for other more efficient ways from a technology standpoint," said Freeman.

When the state does commit to going electronic, it won't have to reinvent the wheel. The feds are already doing it as are other states. Oregon just committed $90 million to go to an e-filing system.

It's important to remember, however, that technology often carries a human cost in job cuts. That is a very real concern at the Wake County Courthouse. However, any real change appears to be a long ways off.

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