by Stephanie Overby

Process Automation and Change Management: Miami Courts Stop Pushing Paper

Apr 01, 20032 mins

Miami-Dade County Clerk of Court's office spent $18 million on a project that includes an image-based document-management system. Problem was the traffic court judges hated it.

Some situations are ripe for automation. But that doesn’t mean all users are ready to embrace it.

Before 1998, the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts was a paper skyscraper, annually dealing with 500,000 cases and 2 million attendant documents. The typical traffic citation would be handled 37 times. Each citation would attract more documents (arrest records, pleadings, court motions). Updates were keyed and rekeyed into the clerk’s databases. And each court day, county employees would have to dig out and lug heavy file-filled boxes to one of 21 traffic courtrooms.

So the clerk’s office (along with the 11th Judicial Circuit Court and the Miami-Dade County government) spent $18 million on an image-based document-management system from FileNet of Costa Mesa, Calif. The system, which Accenture consultants helped implement, scans incoming documents, and each case gets its own electronic file.

But while court workers were keen to learn the new system, the traffic judges didn’t like it.

“Some judges thought we were just trying to get them to do the courtroom clerk’s job,” says Thomas James, CIO of Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts. “Some thought the new system would slow them down. Some thought the presence of a PC monitor on the bench would inhibit their ability to have eye contact with people and that they’d lose control of their courtroom.”

To win judicial acceptance, the project leaders provided the judges with three weeks of individual training and a system that wouldn’t slow them down. “If we had not been successful in providing a responsive system, it would never have been accepted by the judges. Speed came to be the primary issue,” James says. The system also allows a judge’s clerk to take control.

Since implementation at the end of 1999, the court has started to save $1 million a year (staff was reduced by 15 percent and overtime costs were cut in half) and has increased traffic fee collection by 60 percent. James says the office now has about 3,500 more square feet of storage space.

Next: e-traffic tickets. A pilot project underway allows the clerk’s office to receive electronic citations issued by the Florida Highway Patrol. The clerk’s office awaits approval to enable citizens to pay for traffic citations online. And no need to see a judge.