Courts must invest in IT, judge says

National Center for State Courts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Courts and technology go hand-in-hand, as far as South Carolina's top judge is concerned.

"Technology in the courtroom should be as much of a fixture as the American flag," said Jean Hoefer Toal, chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

E-mail and the Web will be as fundamental to modern life as running water and electricity, Toal told an audience at the National Center for State Courts' eighth annual Court Technology Conference. Technology, she said, will improve service, save money and level the playing field among courts, which will have equal access to electronic resources. And the laptop will be the work environment for all judicial personnel, saving hardware costs, she said.

But none of it can work, Toal said, without collaboration among agencies, a cultural change of how people view technology and sufficient funding.

Leadership is also essential, she said. That means having the right attitude, vision, open-mindedness, focus, planning, knowledge of industry best practices, active involvement and a can-do work ethic, she added.

Toal has firsthand experience with upgrading a court's infrastructure. Technology in the South Carolina Supreme Court amounted to little more than a fax machine and some rudimentary automated systems when she was sworn in as chief justice three years ago.

Since then, the court has embarked on a long-term modernization project. Toal selected an information technology director and the court system hired BearingPoint Inc. to help create a strategic plan — for network connectivity, a case management system, document imaging technology, Web portals and a call center — for courts statewide.

Since 2000, every court clerk in the state's 46 counties was given four personal computers, one laptop, a network printer and a Web presence. The Supreme Court introduced a portal — which now gets more than 3 million hits monthly — that provides a court calendar and other information saving the state thousands of dollars in publishing and other costs. The court installed an imaging system and is piloting a hosted case management system with three counties.

By the end of the year, every court in the state will have high-speed connectivity, Toal said. She expects that in the future, all judicial facilities will have network connectivity, the case management system will be deployed in all counties with a real-time interface with the criminal justice information system and e-filing will be available.


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