Cape County starting to scan court documents for state's online database

Friday, February 10, 2012
Deputy circuit clerk Courtney Bemo scans court documents Thursday at the Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau. Rooms full of these files are being scanned and converted into electronic records that can be accessed on Missouri (Kristin Eberts)

Mouse clicks and the mechanical sounds of paper scanners have started to replace the slam of rubber "filed" stamps at the Cape Girardeau County circuit clerk's office.

That's because Cape Girardeau County is one of the first Missouri counties to start loading pertinent files from divorces filed in 2012 onto Missouri, a statewide online database that typically shows the public court dates, party information and rulings.

With the county's archive center almost full, clerks started scanning documents from cases that have little paperwork shortly after the new year began, Circuit Clerk Patti Wibbenmeyer said.

"We're hoping it will save money on buying supplies to create folders for our smaller cases," Wibbenmeyer said. "We see thousands of cases with very little paperwork every year."

The process began with newly filed divorces, but by the end of February, local transaction judgments filed by the Division of Employee Security, local tax liens filed by the Department of Revenue and files from administrative cases will be on, Wibbenmeyer said.

Rows of court documents are stored Thursday at the Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau.

The effort is helping clerks like Wibbenmeyer and deputy clerk Courtney Bemo prepare for changes that online service may see in the coming years.

The Missouri Supreme Court began loading all of its files into in September, said Circuit Judge William Syler, who sits on the Missouri Court Automation Committee. In its first month using the electronic filing system, the court saved $1,000 in postage, Syler said.

St. Charles County began electronically filing -- or e-filing -- civil court documents in June.

"This allows people to do by computer now what they once had to do by hand," Syler said.

Syler said the push for statewide e-filing came from judges, clerks and other judicial officials throughout the state. Missouri plans to gradually roll out statewide e-filing for The court of appeals will begin uploading documents to the online service sometime this spring, Syler said.

With state funding, documents in civil cases would be available statewide in five years, but Syler said he is not confident the program will get the required grants to start implementation. The estimated cost of the program is $2.5 million per year its first five years.

Without state funding, fees may be charged to users. If the e-filing services were funded by fees, statewide implementation would take longer than five years, Syler said.

Documents from criminal cases may not be on anytime soon because they contain several pieces of confidential information, namely victim identities, addresses and pertinent crime information, Syler said.

'A little dab'

Shelves filled with folders line the perimeter of three rooms in the circuit clerk's office, on the first floor of the Common Pleas Courthouse at 44 N. Lorimier St. Documents tabbed with colored stickers are jammed in the folders, which are squeezed in the shelves.

Even more folders line the walls of the building's basement, which Bemo has dubbed "the dungeon."

While Cape Girardeau County has not been selected by the Missouri Court Automation Committee to test out all of e-filing's facets, Wibbenmeyer and Bemo have started to get a feel for the system.

"We're not putting all our civil cases in it right now, but we're getting a little dab of e-filing here," Syler said.

Bemo described inputting files in as easy.

"Four clicks and it's done," Bemo said. "It's not hard to do at all."

Court officials and lawyers in good standing can log onto the, enter some information about the case that's being filed and attach any pertinent documents. Once the documents are filed, they are sent to a clerk. Attorneys typically get an email telling them their file has been received.

Without the e-filing system in place, citizens typically have to go to the clerk's office and pay a dollar per page for a clerk to copy requested files.

Bemo said she will not immediately scan all the files that line her office's shelves because it will be time-consuming. Several items on the civil case files in her office will need to be redacted before they're released to the public, she said.

The next step

Electronic filing comes after years of online growth for the Missouri judicial system.

Counties had been largely autonomous in their electronic filings until 1994, when a revised statute established a statewide court automation project to be funded with a $7 per-case court fee and overseen by a Missouri Court Automation Committee. The statute standardized record filing across the state and eventually helped give the public online access to "a skeleton" of the court system, Syler said. sans pertinent court files is like "opening up a book and only reading the table of contents," Syler said.

Despite a bare-bones overview of the judicial system's events, the site gets 2 million hits a day, Syler said.

With e-filing in place, courtrooms will stay open later, although nobody will be in them and their doors will be locked. A computer with Internet access and a scanner are all an attorney needs to file documents, according to a brochure on electronic filing published by the Missouri Court Automation Committee.

That means attorneys can file from home, their office or anywhere else as long as they have the right equipment, Syler said.

"The courtroom will no longer close at 5 p.m.," Syler said. "It will close at 11:59 p.m."


Pertinent address:

44 N. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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