Speeches

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer
Court Technology Conference
May 30, 2003

Chairman Bessey, Director Rohrs, judges, and conference participants… welcome to the court technology. Your agenda today is a testament to how far the courts have come since the first Ohio Court Technology Conference nearly a decade ago.

The conversation then focused on whether Microsoft Windows would replace the DOS based system that was the industry standard.

A story in yesterday's New York Times demonstrates how far court technology has come. In a story headlined "Electronic Order in the Court," the Times reported on how technology is helping lawyers present their cases and jurors to better understand complex issues.

Electronic imaging and power-point presentations are now common fixtures in trials across the United States. The story also points-out how video and audio conferencing increases court access to foreign language translators.

The story failed to report that technology in the courtroom is only part of the picture of how computers have become increasingly important to the judiciary. Most of you take for granted that case statistics are easier to compile, and more current now that they can be compiled electronically.

Case flow management is now a science, not an art. An increasing number of courts in Ohio use technology to receive court filings, and payment of traffic violations.

As verified in the Court Technology Survey that is being distributed today… computers now affect every aspect of the judicial process.

Over the course of the past several years, Ohio courts have seen dramatic advances in development and implementation of new technologies.

Ohio courts now use computers and related technology as the primary means of communication, case management, legal research, document creation, and filing.

From the initiation of a case until its conclusion, no aspect of the justice system has been unaffected by technology. Case management software has improved efficiency and accuracy, while reducing the need to store paper records. Filings which once required a trip to the courthouse are now accepted electronically.

The merger of electronic filing and case flow management…a merger expected in the not too distant future….will lead to even greater savings than what has already been achieved.

Currently, 99% of the courts in the state of Ohio have an automated case management system; roughly 40% of Ohio courts have web sites; and 72 more courts report planning to offer services on the Internet.

These Internet services include basic court information, local rules, electronic payment of fees, access to the court docket and electronic filing.

I am pleased to provide you today with a comprehensive look at the state of technology in Ohio courts.

The results of the 2002 Survey on Technology and the Courts marks a year-long effort to gather the most comprehensive information about Ohio court technology in the 12 year history of the survey.

The scope of the survey has been broadened to include data regarding court use of the Internet to display information and to provide services.

It also includes information technology staffing needs, and strategic technology planning and networking.

The 2002 survey points to substantive increases in technology implementation statewide…indicating that courts are now more responsive to citizen requests for information, and eager to employ creative technology solutions to address operational needs.

This year, Ohio saw the launch of a pilot project for e-filing in the Trumbull County Probate Court and the innovative beginnings of a "paperless court" in the Garfield Heights Municipal Court.

Judge Elizabeth Wakefield of Vermillion Municipal Court successfully piloted a project to reduce certified mailing costs for service by 50% through the implementation of new technologies.

The second phase of the project will include Rocky River Municipal Court, the Cleveland Municipal Court and the Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

While technology has not changed the mission of the judicial system, it has provided courts with new tools to carry out that mission in exciting and innovative ways. For example, 59 courts plan to implement document-imaging, and 32 courts report plans to accept e-payments for traffic violations.

Over the last ten years, with the inception of the filing fee, Ohio courts have built the foundation necessary to apply technology in increasingly complex and valuable ways.

This morning you participated in a presentation on the promised Ohio Courts Network, a plan proposed to form an electronic connection of all courts in Ohio to allow for increased information sharing between the courts and other parts of the justice system.

Imagine a juvenile judge in Lake County who is hearing the case of somebody who grew-up in Butler County. By being able to access those records, the Lake County judge will be better able to craft an appropriate rehabilitation program.

While nearly all state courts are automated….most computer systems in Ohio do not easily share information. The lack of secure links and compatible software have hindered communication.

The proposed court network could help overcome those obstacles…while also creating a central information repository.

The planning of such a comprehensive project will require the dedication and participation of all Ohio courts.

The network will not replicate every piece of information in a local court system, but rather identify information that is critical to investigations, dispositions, and sentencing.

The goal is to gather specific information to share, and by doing so, enhance and streamline the legal process. The challenge will be to do this by using current, proven technology.

A Web portal will allow all Ohio courts to access internet resources, share new application technologies and provide a single point of contact for Ohio citizens.

It will also give justice system partners access to critical court information, and improve public access to appropriate court resources.

I support the ambitions project and will work with others to establish funding for it.

If key institutions agree to move forward with a linked system….it will allow for the more equitable distribution of resources across all Ohio courts…. eliminating the digital divide between urban and rural courts.

This can be accomplished while maintaining local control over systems and information.

A statewide system will also minimize the investment required in new information technologies, and reducing the trial and error of developing new systems in each county.

Society today is more mobile than ever. Systems that communicate are better able to track multi-jurisdictional crimes. A collaborative information-sharing system will reduce the burden on local court budgets and staff.

Some courts may be reluctant to participate in a statewide system, but I wish to assure all judges that if approved…this system will not be disruptive. Courts will not be required to rewire courtrooms and offices….and local officials will not be required to purchase dedicated terminals. Courts may be encouraged to adopt standards and compatible software…but I will not endorse a system that removes local control over information and data.

Use of the Internet has become commonplace in Ohio homes, schools and businesses. According to the 2000 US Census, 57% of all Ohio homes have a computer with internet access.

And according to a 2002 survey by the Pew Charitable Trust, 68 million Americans have used government agency Web sites - a sharp increase from the 40 million who had used government sites in 2000.

Citizens have come to expect electronic access to the courts…the downloading of forms and documents…access to dockets and court records.

The improved understanding of the courts that should result from computer access can help dissipate the feeling that the courts are shrouded in mystery.

As courts move forward in the advanced world of technology… we must remember that computers must help advance a system on justice that is fair and accessible.

In the words of a professor quoted by the New York Times:

"Technology is only a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. The goal is justice at all times, not technology."