Long-Awaited Changes to Clerk of Courts Website Are Finally Coming
October 31, 2011 by Kevin S. Smith
Attorneys, as well as members of the media the general public, use the Clerk of Courts website (courts.IN.gov/cofc) for various reasons, such as online annual attorney registration and fee payments, looking up an attorney on the Roll of Attorneys, and reviewing the dockets in Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Tax Court cases.
While useful when first implemented many years ago, much of the website’s functionality has become outdated—from a technological standpoint, it is in many respects decidedly “user-unfriendly” when compared to the functionality found on more modern websites. To rectify this, for more than a year the Clerk, the Deputy Clerk, the Appellate IT Director, and various court staff have been working diligently to bring about much-needed modernization to the Clerk of Courts website. Some of those changes have just taken place, others will happen over the next several months. These exciting changes, which are happening in three phases, are discussed below.
Phase I: Online Annual Registration and Updating of Roll of Attorneys Information
In Phase I, we rolled out a new Roll of Attorneys platform that allows attorneys to manage and update their Roll of Attorneys contact information, and make their annual fee payments and annual IOLTA certifications, entirely online. Attorneys and judges are able to create their own user IDs and passwords to access their Roll of Attorneys information, and they can delegate to others (such as administrative assistants, paralegals, bookkeepers, etc.) the ability to access and change their Roll of Attorneys information and make their annual registration fee payments for them. Further, the same individual can be the delegate for multiple attorneys, which accommodates the needs of law firms and other organizations who task one or a few individuals with responsibility for paying annual attorney registration fees for multiple attorneys.
Annual fee payments can be made entirely online either by e-check or credit card. For those who desire or need a paper check or cash option, that option exists as well. Payments made by cash, paper check, or e-check incur any additional charges. Credit card payments continue to incur a convenience fee as they have in the past, but that fee is now lower than it has been in previous years.
These “Phase I” changes were up and running in time for the 2011/12 annual attorney registration and fee payment cycle. Because of that, attorneys did not receive an annual registration statement on August 1, 2011 to mark up and send back to us with an enclosed paper check. Instead, on that date the Clerk’s Office mailed to each attorney a letter describing the new online annual registration process and provided the attorney an initial password, which s/he then personalized when logging into the system for the first time. Once inside the web portal, attorneys provide, through their computers, all the information they used to provide with a pen or typewriter on their annual registration forms.
The letter we send out on August 1, 2011, should be the last U.S. postal mailing sent out from the Clerk’s Office regarding annual registration fee payments. In the future, our intent is to send out such notices via the e-mail. In addition, because we are no longer burdened by the expense and administrative hassle of paper mailings, we will be able to send many more “reminder” notices to delinquent attorneys before their registration and certification deadlines pass, thereby hopefully saving many of them the penalty fees associated with missed deadlines.
Further, this new system will make it much easier for attorneys to review and, when needed, update their Roll of Attorneys contact information not only during the annual registration process but throughout the year, so they can easily comply with Admission and Discipline Rule 2(a)’s requirement that they “notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court of any change of address (including electronic mail address), change of telephone number, or change of name within thirty (30) days of such change.”
Phase II: New Online Appellate Docket
Phase II will involve a complete overhaul of the Clerk’s Online Docket, which, at long last, is being replaced with an entirely new system. Users will be able to search for case dockets using multiple criteria (such as party name, court on appeal, trial court, appellate cause number, lower cause number, case type, litigant name, attorney name, trial court judge, date restrictions, etc.), and then further narrow and/or sort the results by similar criteria. They also will be able to view a docket from the results list, and then “go back” to their results screen again without having to run the query all over again.
Further, interested persons will now be able to use the Clerk’s Online Docket for research purposes in ways they have never been able to before. For example, if someone wanted to see how many appeals were filed from a particular trial court during 2011, she could simply specify the trial court and a date restriction of 2011, and up will come all appeals opened during 2011 from that trial court. She would then be able to look at the dockets in each case, gleaning relevant information from each and then going “back” to the list to look at the next one.
Other examples could include viewing the dockets in all appeals involving mortgage foreclosures, or in all appeals in which a certain attorney was counsel of record, or in all appeals filed with Court of Appeals during a given week. The possibilities are limitless concerning the information that attorneys, members of the media, and members of the public will now be able to gather easily from the Clerk’s Online Docket. We anticipate Phase II will be completed by the end of calendar year 2011.
Phase III: Automatic Notification of Appellate Docket Activity
Phase III will provide attorneys and members of the media and public with the unprecedented ability to receive e-mail notifications when certain activity occurs in an appellate case of their choosing. Through a free online subscription service, users will be able to choose the case or cases for which they wish to receive automatic e-mail notifications when certain docket entries (or any docket entry) is made. Subscriptions can be based on any number of criteria, such as: by appellate court (e.g., All, Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, or Tax Court); by appellate cause number; by trial court; by trial court cause number; by county of origin; by specific case type; and by attorney (i.e., cases in which a particular attorney has filed an appearance).
Subscribers will also be able, if they so choose, to further limit the e-mail notifications they receive by information type. For example, if they want to receive e-mail notifications only when orders and/or opinions are issued in all Tax Court cases, then they will be able to so specify. “Order” subscriptions can, in turn, be further narrowed by the specific type of order, such as orders on extensions of time, orders dismissing a case, orders on rehearing petitions, or orders on transfer petitions. Similarly, “opinion” subscriptions can be narrowed so that a person is notified only when a published opinion (or for that matter an unpublished (NFP) opinion) is issued.
In addition, this new functionality will replace the Clerk’s Office’s practice of having a staff person manually e-mail orders and opinions to counsel of record and pro se parties to satisfy the requirements Appellate Rule 26. Now, the system will automatically send to counsel and pro se parties a hyperlink to the digitized order or opinion, which the attorney can print off and/or download. Further, that same hyperlink will also be sent to other subscribers who have signed up to receive notifications for the case in which the order or opinion is issued, if the order or opinion falls within the type of case-related information they have elected to receive. Thus, now all interested persons, and not just counsel of record and pro se parties, will be able to receive, automatically, digital copies of orders and opinions issued in cases in which they have an interest.
This will be a big change for the better, not only for the attorneys involved in the cases, but also for others as well. A lawyer’s staff members will now be able to subscribe to receive e-mail notifications in cases in which the lawyer is involved. Parties will now be able to receive notifications about their without having to check the online docket every day and/or wait to hear about them from their counsel. Members of the media will be able to receive instantaneous updates concerning activity in cases in which they are interested without having to check the dockets, as well as receive published orders and opinions automatically.
Finally, and, importantly, even those who do not subscribe to receive orders automatically will be able to access a case’s orders and opinions through the case’s online docket, as the docket entries for orders and opinions will, after Phase III is complete, be hyperlinked to digitized copies of the orders and opinions. This functionality will be provided on a “going forward” basis, as we currently do not have the resources to be able to digitize and provide hyperlinks to orders and opinions issued before Phase III is complete. We anticipate the completion of Phase III sometime in mid to late 2012.
The completion of the three phases will be the most significant improvements made to the Clerk of Courts website in many years. We are very pleased and excited to bring them to you. Stay tuned!