URBANA — One might not equate backflips with a technology upgrade, but the latter has produced great joy in the Champaign County circuit clerk's office.
A week ago, Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman got word from the Illinois secretary of state that her office can now send reports to that office electronically instead of filling out paper copies by hand and putting them in the U.S. mail.
"We're doing backflips. We are very, very excited," said Blakeman, who marks her first anniversary as circuit clerk on Dec. 1.
"It affects several people as part of their jobs. There's at least one person who does paper dispositions all day long. We're excited because it streamlines our process internally and brings us in compliance with secretary of state office requirements," she said.
Even better, it's not costing the county any extra money and should result in money savings.
"It will save us time certainly," Blakeman said.
As the keeper of all court records for the county, the circuit clerk is responsible for sharing dispositions in all kinds of court cases with various state agencies.
"For example, with traffic tickets, if someone is guilty, has a suspension or revocation, or receives supervision, we are required to send that disposition to the secretary of state to record on that person's driving record. What we had been doing is taking the yellow part of the paper ticket and hand-filling out the paper form and mailing it to the secretary of state via U.S. mail. That would also require (the secretary of state) to have a person to do the data entry to add it to their system," Blakeman explained.
Similarly, criminal dispositions, which have to be sent to the Bureau of Identification within the Illinois State Police, were filled out by hand and sent through the U.S. mail. Illinois State Police gave the circuit clerk's office approval to begin electronic transmission of dispositions a few weeks earlier, Blakeman said.
"The secretary of state shared with us that us sending them a paper disposition would take four weeks to process. (Now), once they receive the disposition it will take them 48 hours to process. That's an enormous improvement," she said.
Not only is it an efficiency issue, it's one of safety for the public and police officers.
If information about a conviction is not entered in a timely manner into the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System that police officers rely on when making stops, it could affect the way they handle a suspect. It could also mean someone whose license has been revoked could continue driving illegally for weeks without police realizing it should the person be stopped again.
Although there are other state agencies that also receive dispositions, the secretary of state's office and the Illinois State Police are two that are set up to receive electronic dispositions from circuit clerks. The Department of Natural Resources and the firearms services branch of the Illinois State Police still require paper forms, Blakeman said.
Blakeman said her office had not previously been approved for electronic submission of dispositions, referred to as automated disposition reporting.
"We had sent test files in the past, and they had a number of errors so it took a lot of work for us to correct those errors. Some of that involved programming in JANO (the county's computerized records system) and it also required a lot of cooperation between departments," she said.
That meant retraining judges' court clerks and circuit clerk staff on the way they enter case dispositions.
"We would work on some of the errors and send another test file and they'd send it back with errors. It's been almost a year's worth of work to get there," said Blakeman of the group effort.
Once the computer program was correct, representatives of the secretary of state's office and the Illinois State Police came to the circuit clerk's office and did audits comparing the paper files in the courthouse to what was sent electronically.
Blakeman learned last week that the office passed the secretary of state's final audit and, as of Tuesday, will start shipping off dispositions to the Illinois State Police and secretary of state with a few keystrokes.
In addition to making the job go a little faster, it lays the groundwork for other "e-business initiatives," she said.
"This is just the beginning. This opens the door for us to begin the process of accepting electronic pleas of guilty on 'may appear' traffic tickets. In other counties, if you get a minor traffic ticket, you could log on and enter an electronic plea of guilty and pay at the same time and just be done with it. Now, you have to mail in or bring in the signed guilty plea and either mail in or bring in payment or wait for (the ticket) to be processed and then pay online. That's a huge customer service. That's the next big thing," she said.
The submission of the forms electronically is not costing the county anything, as it was a feature of the JANO system that came with its standard maintenance contract when the circuit clerk first started using JANO about eight years ago. It simply was not used under the previous circuit clerk, Linda Frank.