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Archived Story

Courts turn to innovation [UPDATED]

Published 6:55am Friday, February 4, 2011 Updated 6:56am Monday, February 28, 2011

Many of you out there might think the local court system runs slow. And why wouldn’t you?Otter Tail Country District Judge Mark Hansen says he averages a caselod of about 175 files at any given time. There are times throughout the year that his caseload can climb towards 400, he says.That’s why Hansen is concerned about the state’s large deficit, budget shortfalls, and other general money matters at the State Capitol.With the way the economy has been going, the court system has taken some hits. Locally, the court system is working to improve its efficiency through a number of different measures.“People don’t think of us as being innovative, but the truth of the matter is, we’re very innovative,” Hansen said.One area that’s cutting down on time and paperwork comes in the manner that law enforcement is dealing with the courts.Otter Tail County is moving to “e-citations” where tickets will be computerized and issued at the point of the squad car and then immediately loaded into the court’s computer system. “It’s an investment for the county  because it has to buy computers for the squad cars, but this is speeding things up  and making things more efficient,” Hansen said.The courts and law enforcement are also working together on an e-charging system that allows criminal complaints to be filed through another computer system. There are lots of benefits to e-charging. Police departments and the sheriff’s department don’t have to send officers to the courthouse to file complaints. They can do it from their computer terminals. Another benefit is that the three Otter Tail County judges can receive complaints needing their signatures by email.With a click of a computer mouse the judges can receive complaints throughout the day in their inboxes. This keeps law enforcement from having to kill timefinding a judge.Court fines can now be paid online through a statewide clearing house. There is no big state office building filled with fine-takes eating up state salaries and benefits. The fine-collectors work out of their homes through tele-working.In-court updating is another way that computers are speeding up the court process. If you go to court today, you will find two clerks seated alongside the judge. One of the clerks is entering into a computer orders and sentences as they are being handed down. Before, all the orders were handwritten on a piece of paper, delvered to the clerk of courts office where they sat in a pile until entered into the computer by court staff.The court system needs to be leading its charge with innovation to help make ends meet.If funding gets cut further, the court system will not be able to the job the way it’s supposed to.
Jeff Hage is the managing editor of The Daily Journal. Reach him at jeff.hage@fergusfallsjournal.com

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