How you access Idaho’s courts is about to change

New way to access Idaho court information reaches Ada County

Ada County was the second county in the state to get the new court management system, Odyssey. Phil McGrane, the county's chief deputy clerk, described what to expect in this video from July 2016.
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Ada County was the second county in the state to get the new court management system, Odyssey. Phil McGrane, the county's chief deputy clerk, described what to expect in this video from July 2016.

There are searches for driving records, to learn about whom you’re going on that date with, to find out about that surprise ticket.

Idaho’s online collection of court records gets about 200,000 hits each day, officials with the Idaho Supreme Court say.

With a few keystrokes, the Idaho Repository provides around-the-clock public access to information on civil and criminal cases in all 44 counties.

But there are things it doesn’t do — you can’t actually see a court file, for example, just the list of filings in a case. The current system was last updated in the late 1990s and is on life support.

So early next month, Ada County residents will see a change. Ada will be the second county to try out a new system called Odyssey, developed by a Texas company called Tyler Technologies.

Idaho’s multiyear conversion began last summer in Twin Falls County, and officials have been smoothing out the kinks over the past year. Ada County’s February launch was delayed a couple of times but state officials are confident in the current date to go live: Aug. 8.

One thing we do not want to do is fail. We don’t want to flip on the system on day one and have the system crash.

Linda Copple Trout, former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and chairwoman of the Odyssey design and implementation team

Q: So how will I search the court system?

The new public portal is at a new website: mycourts.idaho.gov. (If you go there now, you can see how the system works for Twin Falls cases.)

But the repository won’t vanish overnight. It will still be needed for comprehensive, statewide records searches until all 44 counties transition. Be prepared to use both the new and old systems until the end of 2018.

After Ada County, 10 counties in the 4th and 5th judicial districts will launch on April 3, 2017: Blaine, Boise, Camas, Cassia, Elmore, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Valley. Dates are being finalized for the remaining counties.

Q: Will I be able to view court documents from my computer?

One of the big goals of the new system is to go as paperless as possible. Within a couple of years, court filings across the state will be largely digital.

But people directly involved in the court system — judges, prosecutors, public defenders, health and welfare officials, law enforcement and private attorneys — will get online access to court documents before the general public.

“We try to dispel the myth that this is a fully paperless system. We recognize that there is a need for paper,” said Kevin Iwersen, chief information officer for Idaho’s court system. “When a defendant walks out of court and there’s an order or a hearing date, we want them to have that in hand.”

Concerns about protecting sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, are behind the delay in granting the public broader access. State officials hope to let the public pull up court documents by the end of 2018.

“To me, that’s the whole beauty of the system — to be able to access documents electronically,” said former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Linda Copple Trout, now interim administrative director of the court system. “Until we get to a level of confidence that we’re not inadvertently disclosing info that should not be disclosed, we’re going to go slowly.”

Federal court documents have been available online for years. States have been slower to provide that kind of access, though Alabama and Utah both allow the public to view documents.

“Typically there is a fee associated with it,” Iwersen said. “That provides some level of control that those accessing it have a legitimate need.”

Iwersen said Idaho is going to follow the federal model but the court technology committee wants a better understanding of the system, particularly for criminal files.

Q: How will I get court files then?

You’ll still be able to pull them up at the courthouse in Boise — but you’ll be looking at digital files on a kiosk rather than stacks of paper in a manila folder.

Kiosks will be on the tablet that’s between the clerk’s office counters and in the document reading rooms, Iwersen said. You’ll be able to print documents off for a yet-unknown fee — currently, Ada County charges $1 per page for copies.

And what if you want to email the digital files or copy them onto a thumb drive? That won’t be permitted at first but state officials will look at making that an option, Iwersen said.

The Ada County Courthouse handles about a half-million paper files at any given time but is moving as fast as possible to go paperless, Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane said Monday.

All Ada County land records were digitized three to four years ago, he said.

There’s an ongoing effort to scan all court files that date back to 1995, and McGrane expects that to be completed by 2021. After the Odyssey launch, most new cases will be filed digitally.

Q: What has this cost?

The Legislature allocated $21.5 million over five years for the court’s technology plan, which includes the Odyssey launch, Iwersen said.

The Supreme Court’s technology committee, chaired by Justice Roger Burdick, chose Tyler Technologies from a field of three applicants after issuing a request for proposals for new court management systems. Tyler offered the “most capable system” and submitted the lowest bid, Iwersen said.

Idaho is one of about a dozen states, including North Dakota and New Mexico, that have opted to use the Odyssey court management system. Oregon just finished its rollout of Odyssey, and Washington state is phasing it in now (for its superior, or district, courts only). That the three Northwest states are using the same system could make it easier to share information.

“We’ve had preliminary discussions about an exchange between the three states,” Iwersen said.

Q: What do people in Twin Falls County think?

The new system isn’t perfect, but it’s already better than what users there started with a year ago, they say. Folks in Twin Falls have recommended changes to make it more user-friendly, and there was an upgrade last week.

“It’s certainly been a challenge,” Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said. “We really hope that we are no longer volunteered to be guinea pigs.”

One of Loebs’ biggest beefs was lack of online access to court files. It was only earlier this month that his office gained that ability. And for some time, court motions had no details about who filed them or their purpose.

He said state IT officials are working to help his office gain access to financial records so they can track restitution payments.

Loebs’ staff has found the new system cumbersome because of the format, which requires a lot more clicking and opening things. (The fix for that is coming soon, Iwersen said.) Filing complaints electronically is more time-consuming than expected, he said.

We’ve done our time in the test tube. Whoever volunteered us, I doubt they’ll do that again.

Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs

Brooke Redmond, a litigator at Wright Brothers Law Office in Twin Falls, said court staff and others have been helpful when she’s had questions or problems.

“There’s been growing pains and hiccups on my end and theirs but it sure is nice to email a filing, as opposed to making sure you get it to the courthouse by 4:30 or 5,” Redmond said.

I’ve actually thought it’s been a great change.

Brooke Redmond, litigator with Wright Brothers Law Office

She said she was nervous when she heard Twin Falls County was going to be the pilot. She envisioned something “catastrophic,” like files getting lost in the cloud.

“I haven’t experienced anything or heard anything like that,” she said “I’ve been really impressed with the transition.”

Each file is backed up in two secure locations, and state officials are looking at a third possible backup, Iwersen said.

Q: What about judges?

Judge Richard Bevan is the administrative judge for the 5th Judicial District, of which Twin Falls County is a part. He estimates he’s probably had only five paper court files on the bench since last year.

“Those were last minute add-ons, or where the file was so massive that it didn’t scan,” Bevan said.

He’s become comfortable with the software Idaho judges are now using to do their work in Odyssey, Judge’s Edition. He uses his laptop in chambers and a PC setup in the courtroom. Staff loads the machines with cases, so if the Internet is down he still has the files he needs.

He rarely writes on a legal pad now. Instead he uses Word, then pastes things into Judge’s Edition.

“For external users, there have been a lot of headaches and a lot of grumbling. For me, as a judge, I like it a lot,” Bevan said. “I can find things with the stroke of a key. I can just find it instantly, and it’s there on the screen in front of me. I’m a fan, for what it’s worth.”

He said he has heard some magistrate judges say that filling out forms in the system isn’t yet as quick as doing it by hand.

Q: Have any lessons been learned for Ada’s transition?

For the first six months of the Twin Falls County launch, the court accepted both digital and paper filings. That proved burdensome.

“It was difficult on the deputy clerks to maintain two systems,” Copple Trout said.

So they’re not going to do that in Ada County. Starting on Aug. 8, prosecutors will file criminal complaints on paper but all subsequent filings (affidavits, motions, orders) must be done electronically.

For civil cases and other filings, e-file will be optional starting the first month after the launch and will be mandatory two months after launch.

Attorneys have been made aware, Iwersen said.

“We’re doing training with the bar association,” he said. “A letter was just sent to the entire state bar.”

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

What do other states charge for online access to court records?

Some examples:

▪  Alabama provides documents to any user for $5 for the first 20 pages, and 50 cents per page thereafter.

▪  Utah charges public users a subscription fee of $30 per month for up to 200 searches. The state charges 10 cents per search thereafter. “Documents are available in some cases,” states the court’s website; those cost 50 cents per document.

▪  Oklahoma provides documents only to attorneys for a fee of $50 per month.

What is Odyssey — and who will use it?

Odyssey is Idaho’s new court case management system, replacing both software used by county courts and the search website for the public. It is a unified statewide system, unlike the current arrangement, in which all 44 counties have their own independent systems.

Odyssey will be used to manage cases: schedule hearings, provide hearing notices and calendars, generate court documents, provide appellate records, assess fees, fines and court costs and provide cashiering capabilities.

It will be used by court clerks, judges, court staff, probation officers, prosecutors, public defenders, attorneys and the general public.

It is being phased in across the state. Twin Falls was the first county to get the new system, and Ada County is next up on Aug. 8. The entire state is expected to have the new system by the end of 2018.