North Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa Clerk works with Judges to go Paperless

Santa Rosa Clerk works with Judges to go paperless

Criminal case filings being filed electronically from start to finish

 Hon. Mary M. Johnson, Santa Rosa’s Clerk of the Circuit Court, received a letter from the Supreme Court on April 4, 2012, allowing her to discontinue the requirement to have paper follow-up documents in the criminal court areas, meaning she could go to an all electronic filing process for that court area. “I was ecstatic,” she remarked, “This was the day I was waiting for.” This day marked the end to the lengthy journey Johnson had undertaken over the past few years to finally go paperless, being able to use an electronic record, and creating a better workflow for her office and the courts.

Since the beginning of the budget cuts in 2009, Clerks of Court across the state have been holding onto their purse strings and having to cut positions, freeze vacancies, institute furloughs and layoffs. The Santa Rosa Clerk’s Office was no different.

“We were lucky to be able to handle the cuts through attrition and freezing positions. We continued to freeze positions as they became available since that time. Now, as often as we can, we are using a temp agency to fill in the gaps when we have a need on court-side,” said Clerk Mary Johnson.

But Johnson also saw aging technology in her office and felt that a new approach would help her create efficiencies for her office, easing the workload on staff, as well as creating a more effective process in the courtroom.

Johnson remarked, “I have been in the courtroom since we handwrote in docket books. I knew what we had could be better, but I have been waiting for the right case maintenance system to come along that incorporated so many of the requirements of recent legislation and e-filing. I knew there had to be a better way that took less time and incorporated modern techniques.”

Johnson upgraded her existing case maintenance system last year and began processing cases.  The new upgrades allowed her office to image, redact and accept e-filed documents, making her office compliant with Florida law for redaction and imaging all case filings, and set the stage for going paperless. The new case maintenance system allows Clerk’s staff to provide images to the public on demand that are redacted of sensitive information, create all required financial reporting, reporting that formerly had to be done in another system, and allows for faster docketing and case processing.

Installing the new features connected her case maintenance system to the Florida Courts E-Filing portal, allowing her office to start accepting electronically filed documents. Beginning just a few months ago, Johnson and her staff urged local attorneys to begin sending documents electronically.  Through local demonstrations, she was able to help them see that using the Internet website,, would save them time and money. There would be no need to send the paper document to the courthouse by runner and wait to have it accepted and stamped.

Johnson has seen a growing acceptance of this filing method since then. In March alone, her office processed more than 970 documents filed electronically, filed on cases in eight of the ten court areas. In the first few weeks of April, the numbers have climbed even further. There have been 400 documents filed in the first week of the month, 121 in just one day.

Statewide, the focus has been on e-filing all civil case types. But Johnson took the system one step further to incorporate the acceptance of criminal case filings. Florida Clerks have chosen the current deadline of December 31, 2012, for Clerks to be ready to accept e-filed criminal documents.

The Clerk’s Chief Deputy Adair Cotton remarked, “it really didn’t take us long to set up our docket codes in this new system to be ready for criminal filing. We started with a few cases to make sure it worked efficiently. Then we worked with our local State Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices to make sure the portal was easy for them to use and went from there.”

With the Supreme Court and the Legislature focusing on electronic filing for criminal cases during this year, Johnson reached out to Hon. Bill Eddins, the First Circuit State Attorney, and the office of Public Defender Hon. James Owens. She offered them an opportunity to try their hand at e-filing criminal cases in Santa Rosa County.

“Our Santa Rosa office started some test filings in January to see how it would work,” said Eddins, “While we are aiming for batch filing, we have found that electronic filing has not slowed our Santa Rosa office down at all. We are now sending all case documents through the portal where they become immediately available to the judge and the clerk. We are discontinuing all paper and only send the clerk follow-up documents of those verified pleadings, those forms that require a real signature.”

Alice F. Harris, the Public Defender’s Milton Office chief, remarked, “We find that using the portal does not hamper our workflow at all.  We have begun using it in the Felony division as a test and it has gone well. I look forward to filing on all our cases this way.”

For the next step to her well thought-out process, Johnson installed another system to round out the workflow. If the documents were coming to her office electronically, she thought, why not move them a little further? She brought the electronic file into the courtroom for the judges of Santa Rosa County.  She worked with the judiciary and court administration to get the software and hardware together and installed in the courtrooms.

She turned on the switch Monday, April 2. The next day, County Court Judge Robert Hilliard tested the system during his regular criminal court proceeding and never touched a paper file. Hilliard is among several of the judges who now have a computer at the bench so he can use the new system to process cases using touch technology.

Judge Hilliard said, “I was amazed at how easy this new system was. I can bring up the pertinent file, view the document needed, and with a series of taps and touches, I was able to get through 109 criminal cases that day and never touch any paper!”

Circuit Judge Marci Goodman was part of the demonstration last week. “I am excited for the possibilities that this technology opens for both the clerks and the court,” she said. “Innovations such as this allow for the judicial system and its partners to continue serving the citizens of Santa Rosa County in a faster, more efficient manner.”

First Circuit Court Administrator Robin Wright spoke to the collaborative nature of the project. “Without Clerk Johnson spearheading this effort, we would not be going paperless yet. Ms. Johnson has created this partnership that we feel is going to change the way we do our work. Through the paperless processing we can become a model for the state.”

Johnson can already see ways to expand the use of the system, to include first appearance, pretrial release or other types of judicial process. She remarked, “Getting documents from the other court partners electronically, such as Corrections or Probation, would be of real help.”

Johnson feels that everyone’s patience and hard work has finally paid off. “The letter I received in early April from the Florida Courts Technology Commission allowing my office to discontinue receiving paper copies of criminal documents, sent as follow-up to electronic filings, confirms that the Santa Rosa Clerk’s Office has arrived. We have set the bar for the rest of the state for Clerk and court workflow efficiencies.”

Johnson said, “I commend the judiciary, my staff, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office for their collaborative efforts.”

One of Clerk Johnson’s sayings has really held true, “Cooperation and communication is the key to a successful outcome for a project.”


Posted by on Apr 20 2012. Filed under Local. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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