Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Funds for Technology Upgrades Awarded to Local Courts

Image of an infographic of an Ohio county map with some counties colored in red and the words, '$2.89 million awarded to 35 projects'

Image of an infographic of an Ohio county map with some counties colored in red and the words, '$2.89 million awarded to 35 projects'

With a new judicial center under construction in Hancock County, there was an ideal opportunity to modernize the technology used in some courtrooms. At the top of the list was replacing the antiquated systems used for recording court proceedings.

“The equipment we currently use is so old. It’s limping along,” said Kim Switzer, director of court services for the Hancock County Common Pleas Court.

But a barrier for courts needing reliable, up-to-date technology is often the hefty price tag.

So it was a welcome relief a few weeks ago when the Hancock County court received word that it would receive $120,000 in funding from the Supreme Court of Ohio for digital recording systems for the domestic relations court. The updated technology will be installed in the two domestic relations courtrooms at the new judicial center. Switzer said the upgrades will not only improve the audio captured during court proceedings but also add video capabilities.

Switzer explained that dependable technology benefits the public and makes it easier for court staff to access the case record quickly and efficiently. They will be able to download the transcript of a proceeding and deliver it to those who request it – such as the attorneys in cases, people who are representing themselves in court, the court reporter, and the judge, she said.

Grants Approved for 35 Projects
The Hancock County project is one of 35 statewide receiving technology funding this year from the Supreme Court. The grants assist local courts with modernizing their operations. The Court awarded a total of $2.89 million in May to courts in 25 counties. The grants ranged from $9,500 to $150,000.

“The award of this grant was good timing with the move to a new building,” Switzer noted. “The new recording systems can be installed while all the wiring is being laid. And the grant is a way for the court to make a nice contribution to the county and the community for the judicial center.”

The court received $150,000 total for technology improvements. In its current courthouse, where criminal and civil cases will continue to be heard, part of the grant will pay for an updated recording system in one courtroom. Today, video arraignments with outside facilities aren’t feasible because of distracting sound feedback between its audio recording system and online virtual meeting tools, Switzer said. With the new technology, the court will be able to hold secure, remote hearings with jails and prisons across the state – saving thousands of dollars spent each year to transport defendants to the courthouse for hearings.

The grant will also allow for the purchase of assistive listening devices. Designed for those who have difficulty hearing, the devices amplify sound via headphones. Switzer said the need for the devices arose originally from jurors sitting on cases who needed hearing assistance.

“Over the years, more people with various disabilities are visiting and using the courts,” she added. “This is one way we can assist people who have trouble hearing.”

The listening devices help not only individuals bringing legal matters to the courts or participating in the jury pool, but also witnesses and attorneys. Switzer pointed out that as the population is aging, so is the age of potential jurors. The new plug-in listening devices are available as needed in the courtrooms, and they shorten the delays caused when accommodations must be found for people with these needs, Switzer noted.

“They will keep court proceedings moving, offering a more accessible and transparent justice system,” she said.

Outdated Hardware and Software Common in Grant Applications
Many Ohio courts that applied for 2024 grants are dealing with aging case management software and obsolete computer systems. The technology often is no longer supported by the original vendors. The Clinton County Probate Court and Clinton County Juvenile Court were together awarded $70,340 to overhaul their case management systems. It’s been more than a decade of using the current software and operating system. The probate court’s last upgrade was in 2012, and the juvenile court hasn’t had a significant update since 2010.

Kari Cunningham, fiscal clerk for the courts, said one of the newly funded items – a court scheduling application – will streamline how changes to the juvenile and probate dockets are communicated.

“Right now, we do a paper docket for each court each week,” Cunningham said. “It’s scanned and sent around by email. If there’s a change, the document has to be sent around again. With the digital scheduler, the dockets will be updated in real time.”

Other improvements are expected to speed up workflow for staff and deliver better service to the public. They will include the ability to scan and attach documents directly on the docket and to e-file with the court.

Christina Poe, chief deputy clerk for the juvenile court, said people come in to request copies of documents, such as child support orders or custody papers, from cases several years earlier. Because of space limitations for paper files, older cases are stored in the basement. People are often asked to return the next day to allow time to retrieve the materials, or the clerks will get an address to mail the documents. Poe said with the grant-funded upgrades, staff will be able to access the requested information from their computers.

“Instead of getting the case file, copying a document, and then sending it, we’ll now be able to email the document straight from the docket or print it for someone at the counter in the clerk’s office,” Poe said.

Adding e-filing for the courts will have important benefits, too.

“We constantly receive calls from the public asking, ‘How do I file this document?’” Poe said.

The calls take staff time and, for the public, visiting a court to submit documents can be a struggle. Poe said people might not be able to take time off work or travel to the courthouse from another county.

“With e-filing, it’s going to be easier for the public,” she said. “It’s going to be amazing.”

The Supreme Court Technology Grant Fund is open to Ohio appeals, common pleas, municipal, and county courts. Since the grant program began in 2015, Ohio courts have received $42.4 million, which included about $6 million of additional funding distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic.