New OCIS program to link courts across state

Instant access to authorized court records throughout Oklahoma is expected to become available within the next three years.
Work is underway to upgrade and expand the Oklahoma Court Information System, which will link district courts in the state’s 77 counties. When installed, the new system will provide electronic filing access to courts.
Supreme Court Chief Justice James E. Edmondson said vendors have been identified and asked to submit a proposal by the end of December.
Court clerks, judges, attorneys and paralegals will study the proposals for a couple of months beginning in February.
The goal is to examine both current and future needs for the OCIS program and establish policies that, when implemented, would provide a more efficient and less costly way of handling court data.
A unified, statewide system will serve the public in many ways, Edmondson said. Not only will it provide access to court records, but it will also alert police officers to outstanding warrants. Related arrests will be the most publicly visible change, he said.
Electronic traffic citations already are being tested by the department of public safety and Oklahoma City district court, Edmondson said. If successful, paper tickets might be eliminated. Citations would be immediately sent from the officer to a clerk for processing. Moreover, they could not be lost or incapable of deciphering.
“The best thing is the new system will provide public access to information that is not confidential or restricted by state or court order,” he said.
People will have up-to-date information about the courts that is free and accessible at home.
Edmondson said the program will help media as well, cutting out the task of going to a court office and thumbing through volumes of files.
Discoveries produce a tremendous amount of paperwork that is costly and time-consuming to maintain, he explained. The modern system will be limited by only the size of the disc used.
When the committee begins the review of the programs and equipment proposed by vendors, they will be able to compare data with a similar Delaware system, which is reportedly working well.
Edmondson said various options, including purchasing an entire system or customizing one, would be considered by the committee.
However, he said he hopes the first phase will be installed during 2010, with the second and third phases following in 2011 and 2012.
Funding comes from assessments of fees that are paid by attorneys and others using the courts, Edmondson said. The funds are designated for developing a unified court information system. They are not general revenue funds or taxes. The money is to be budgeted and appropriated by the Supreme Court.
But there are challenges for the money to be used in other ways.
The declining value of the judicial retirement system has lawmakers looking at court finances.
Edmondson told lawmakers he would support moving $6 million from the OCIS fund to the judicial retirement fund for 2010.
Looking at funds for 2011 is a different story.
While economic difficulties continue, the court funds could not withstand any withdrawal for something other than its designated purpose, Edmondson said. Expenditures have been increased to facilitate the future needs of the OCIS program, and the cost to build it depends on the style chosen.
Edmondson, admitting he is not that technically savvy, said vendors’ hardware and software choices will depend on their records of successes and failures.
The new system is not cheap.
The estimated cost for the statewide system is between $25 million and $50 million and would take three to five years for complete installation.
Edmondson said 13 counties currently on OCIS probably could use the new system easily. Then it depends on how quickly the KellPro System could be exchanged for the new system.

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