Linda Copple Trout: Action needed to update court technology system

GUEST OPINION: IDAHO’S COURTS

January 16, 2014 

From Amazon to Google, Apple to Microsoft, 21st century business is driven by technology, the Internet, and constant and necessary improvements in efficiency and productivity. Idaho’s court system must also perform at the highest levels and in the same modern information technology environment.

Idaho courts have long taken pride in staying abreast of the needs of a 21st century economy, and we have reached a critical point where technology investments must be made if we hope to ensure that the thousands of cases that come to Idaho’s courts annually are resolved fairly, in a timely manner and efficiently.

Idaho’s courts will be asking the session of the state Legislature to invest in a well-planned, comprehensive approach to updating the judicial branch’s critical technology infrastructure. It’s not inexpensive, but it is essential, and we have developed a range of options to fund the necessary upgrades that we believe will allow the Legislature and governor to meet the need.

In truth, the court’s existing technology infrastructure has reached what the experts call “the end of life.” The software that supports the court’s statewide ISTARS system, in place for 25 years, is obsolete, and licenses are no longer renewable. Realizing that we must face these technology challenges if Idaho’s courts are to continue to meet the constitutional mandate to resolve cases without delay, the Supreme Court established a technology committee to evaluate options.

After months of work and consultation, the committee is recommending a modern, 24/7, Web-based case management system for Idaho that will benefit every aspect of private commerce and public business in the state and will join all of Idaho’s 44 counties into one cohesive system. By taking advantage of significant advances in technology generally and in court technology specifically, the new system will generate across-the-board cost savings while enhancing productivity and efficiency.

One-time costs of $21.6 million for this critical update can be spread over five years and will include:

- New software to handle case management along with the necessary infrastructure and new electronic court records equipment.

- Replacement of outdated courthouse computers, printers, and digital recording software.

- Video conferencing capability at all Idaho courthouses.

- Moving to a paperless court system.

In developing these proposals for the Legislature and governor, the Idaho courts have concentrated on applying proven technology already in everyday use in many different courts across America and capable of being fully implemented during the planned five-year transition period.

It will ultimately be up to the Legislature how to fund this essential investment, but we believe it can be done by an increase in the existing Court Technology Fee, or alternatively an increase in that fee accompanied by bridge or transition funding, or by a redirection of filing fees already being collected by the courts and deposited into the state’s general fund.

We look forward to working with the other branches of state government to find the best approach.

Once implemented, the modern court technology system will provide significant time and cost savings to Idaho taxpayers, lawyers, litigants, counties and cities, and the numerous different court records consumers, whether they are private or commercial enterprises such as banks and credit unions.

Our courts are the final line of protection for individual rights. They provide access to justice, help ensure the safety of communities and protect our most basic constitutional rights.

Our courts also have an essential role in supporting a growing economy by operating — as business must — with the help of modern technology.

Idaho’s outdated technology system needs to be updated. We have little choice but to start that process in 2014.

Linda Copple Trout is a former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court.

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