Big changes are coming soon to Alamance County court’s system, with the implementation of the statewide paperless, online court filing system known as “eCourts” scheduled to take effect this spring, Alamance County court officials have confirmed for The Alamance News.
“Our go live date is April 29,” Alamance County assistant clerk of superior court Kristie Culler said in an interview Wednesday morning.
The eCourts system has been planned for years but initially began in four pilot counties last year. Alamance County is part of a fourth phase of implementation that also includes Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Guilford, Orange Person, Vance, and Warren counties, the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) announced Friday.
Culler, who is the assistant to Alamance County clerk of superior court Meredith Edwards, said that the process of implementing eCourts system here has set off a raft of training sessions for court employees, along with weekly “implementation team” meetings for judicial leaders in Alamance, Chatham, and Orange counties, as well as representatives from AOC, to get ready for the change. Implementation of the system means all Alamance County court personnel will undergo mandatory training, starting March 11 and running through the end of April, Culler explained.
The upside is that, eventually, most court files will be accessible online, Edwards explained in an earlier interview with The Alamance News.
Instead, paper documents will be replaced with “cloud-hosted online access,” or digital documents, giving millions of people free, instantaneous access to court files, AOC officials said Friday. The eCourts system will also allow member of the public to pay tickets and court fees online, according to AOC.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment will be for courthouse patrons who’ve long been accustomed to filing paper documents, Culler acknowledged in the interview Wednesday. “If the files are still open, and we get new filings, we’re going to be scanning them in [to the cloud-based data storage system] as we go,” she said.
However, not all paper files will be scanned and converted to digital ones that can be retrieved online, Culler said. Any documents from cases filed and closed prior to 2009 will have to be retrieved and printed from microfilm at the court house, she said, adding, “2009 was when we started keeping discs [with filings on microfilm] in-house.”
At the same time, customers who lack access to computers will still be able to bring their paperwork into the clerk’s office in order to file an action, or new motions, and the clerks will scan their documents and upload them to the eCourts system, Culler explained. And all of the paper files (“shucks”) currently housed in Alamance County’s court buildings will remain accessible to the public, Culler said. Older paper files are routinely scanned and sent to AOC for warehousing and/or shredding.
“As we get more into it, we’re going to be working a lot of overtime here,” Culler told the newspaper. The clerk’s office is fully-staffed at the moment, including several temporary employees who’ve been hired to assist with implementation, bringing the total number of assistants in the clerk’s office to about 53 or 54 people, she said.
While widespread problems were reported in the four pilot counties early last year – prompting postponements in subsequent counties, including Mecklenburg – eCourts is likely to take effect in Alamance County as scheduled, on April 29, Culler said in the interview.
“The week before we go live, we go into what’s called a dark period,” Edwards’ assistant elaborated. “We’ve been through it [two or three] times now. Mainly, that affects criminal [courts] more than anything in the civil courthouse; everything has to be done manually [during the dark period]. Then, over the weekend, everybody works, putting everything they’ve done the prior week [into the online system]. So, yes, we are going to be working night and day prior to that go-live period.
“What happens is they dump a [ton of data],” Culler explained. “There’s going to be training for attorneys, for different agencies that have to use this system.”
Customers will need to set up an account through the eCourts system, which state court officials have named the Enterprise Justice (Odyssey) system, Culler explained, adding that there’s no cost to use the system, and that assistance is provided online, as well as at the clerk of court’s office.
“At the clerk’s office, we are always here to help,” Culler added. “There will be a lot of questions, and we are going to do everything we can to get everybody transitioned.”
Statewide, more than 600,000 electronic filings have been entered into the eCourts system since implementation began last year, AOC director Ryan Boyce said in the announcement Friday.
The paperless eCourts system is also scheduled to be implemented in 12 counties in the northeastern part of the state on February 5; and two subsequent phases are scheduled to take effect in other N.C. counties this fall, according to the AOC’s announcement.
AOC officials are hoping to implement the eCourts system – which is currently up and running in Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties – in 49 N.C. counties by the end of 2024 and in all 100 counties by the end of 2025.
In addition to saving millions of sheets of paper, AOC officials say that the eCourts system will expand access to court files for all North Carolinians, as well as for law enforcement and other state agencies.
“We’re nervous, but we’re really excited,” said Culler, “because it’s going to bring us [in line] with where most of the country’s court systems are.”
Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit has been filed against Tyler Technologies, the vendor for the eCourts software, over individuals who were allegedly “unlawfully arrested, detained, or over-detained” due to computer errors that were allegedly reported during the implementation of the system in Guilford, Lee, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties, according to multiple news reports published Friday.