Circuit Clerk’s office makes history with new policy

Circuit Clerk’s office makes history with new policy

Switch to electronic record improves efficiency, saves Clinton County $6,700 annually

CARLYLE – File folders have gone the way of the dinosaur in the Clinton County Circuit Clerk’s office.

Last month, Clinton County became the first county in Illinois to exclusively use the electronic record as the official record of the court. Resident Circuit Judge Stan Brandmeyer signed the order on April 12, which eliminates the use of file folders for all civil, criminal and traffic cases, and permits the destruction of scanned paper documents after 30 days.

Clinton County Circuit Clerk Rod Kloeckner said the change is historic. Anyone – from the public to attorneys to judges – wanting to look at a case in Clinton County can only do so electronically on a computer. Out of 102 counties in Illinois, Clinton County is the first to adopt this policy.

“It’s a monumental sea change in the way business is conducted in our office and the courts,” Kloeckner said. “Since April 12, we haven’t used a file folder to open a new case or to add filings to existing cases.

“Hard-copy files in Clinton County are a thing of the past. To me it’s long overdue.”

Kloeckner said significant changes in the third edition of the Manual on Recordkeeping, which was released April 1 by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC), prompted the change. First adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1971, the Manual on Recordkeeping provides circuit clerks with the standards and instructions for maintaining records of cases in trial courts, including the financial and statistical records in the clerk’s office.

“It’s basically the Bible for circuit clerks,” Kloeckner said of the Manual. “It provides the blueprint for everything we do with court records in our office.”

Prior to April 1, all filings in the circuit clerk’s office had to be placed in a case-specific file folder and stored in a filing cabinet. Any subsequent filings pertaining to that case were then added to the existing folder in order to maintain the basic record.

In addition to the hard-copy record, Clinton County has also been maintaining an electronic record of every case filed since 2011 by scanning all documents in all case categories into its case management system. Kloeckner said his predecessor, former circuit clerk Jeff Luebbers, started that procedure and put Clinton County in a great position to embrace the new change to the basic, or official, record of the court.

In response to the continuing modernization of the courts, the Manual redefined in April the basic record to be all documents filed “electronically or conventionally.” Another change provided clerks the ability to “scan” documents filed conventionally and integrate them into the electronic record.

The changes were music to Kloeckner’s ears.

“Since we were one of the only counties to already be scanning every filing that came into our office for the past six years, we were able to immediately make the electronic record our basic record,” Kloeckner said. “There are many, many counties that don’t scan documents and only have hard copies.”

Kloeckner said the goal of the Supreme Court is to eventually eliminate paper records entirely from the court system. Clinton County’s courtroom is one of only a handful in Illinois that is completely paperless. No file folders are brought to the courtroom. The daily docket is accessed electronically via computers on the judge’s bench.

Former Clinton County Circuit Judge Dennis Middendorff, Associate Judge William Becker and now Brandmeyer have all embraced the idea of a paperless court system.

“We’ve been extremely lucky here in Clinton County to have progressive-thinking judges who embrace technology,” Kloeckner said. “Without the consent of the judiciary, this wouldn’t be possible.”

Brandmeyer, who was elected resident judge in 2014, said he fully supports the new policy.

“This is the future,” Brandmeyer said. “You either get on board or get left behind. Rod and his clerks have done an outstanding job positioning the county for this change and all the new e-business initiatives that the courts are mandating.”

Kloeckner said the change to an electronic record will improve efficiency within the office, free up storage space and result in a substantial savings to Clinton County taxpayers. Since 2013, the clerk’s office has spent $26,768.63 on file folders and traffic jackets.

“This will save the county nearly $6,700 annually,” Kloeckner said. “It’s a win-win situation for all involved.”

All documents maintained electronically are safeguarded against loss pursuant to standards established by the Illinois Circuit Courts. The electronic record is stored on a server in the clerk’s office and backed up to an off-site server. The records are also backed up each night onto a tape and taken off-site for storage.