Champaign County circuit clerk's new site boosts access to court documents

Champaign County circuit clerk's new site boosts access to court documents

URBANA — Although it happened under her predecessor, Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman is proud that in 1994, Champaign County became the first county in Illinois to put court records online.

Starting today, access will be even better.

"This has been more than a year of intensive labor and designing the website and the court case lookup system," said Blakeman, the elected county official whose job it is to keep those records.

Those who have the time to browse champaigncircuitclerk.org — a new URL — will be able to find a wealth of information ranging from what to do when a postcard comes for jury service and where to park to how to plead guilty to certain traffic offenses and who filed for divorce on any given day.

Blakeman and her deputy, Brian Kelly, gave a sneak preview of the website Wednesday to a handful of attorneys, who are also interested in the upcoming change to electronic filing of documents in civil cases.

The Illinois Supreme Court decreed in 2016 that the transition to electronic filing be in effect by Jan. 1, 2018. Blakeman's office is now in the "permissive" filing stage, meaning lawyers in civil cases don't have to file electronically but may want to in order to get used to the process and resolve any problems.

Blakeman said the website redesign began about 18 months ago with a survey of users about what they liked and didn't like about the site. That netted 750 responses, only 10 percent of which came from attorneys.

With 8 million hits per year, Blakeman is aware that the website is popular with the general public. Knowing that helped guide the improvements, she said.

"We worked with a local company, (Urbana-based) Pixo, for site design. They helped us with content strategy," Blakeman said.

Among the improvements is that the site is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act for users with vision problems who need a screen reader.

"It was important to develop it so a screen reader will read it logically," she said. "We also have Google translate so it's accessible for non-English-speaking people. It's not perfect, but it does allow visitors to the site to get the basic gist of the information we've put on the page."

Another highlight is that the site will be updated in real time, instead of once every 24 hours. That means within minutes of a judge's clerk making a docket entry about what happened in a courtroom or a case being filed, that will show up on the website.

Users will also be able to search across case types. That means no more need to figure out if John Smith's case falls into the category of civil, criminal, traffic, small claims, probate, city ordinance or conservation.

"All records with that name will display," she said.

"In addition, users will be able to print docket sheets and the balances of their fines and fees. We heard from our customers that they want to know where that money is going," she said, adding it's probably the question she's asked most frequently.

There will also be links to the county board, the Illinois General Assembly and the Supreme Court, the branches of government responsible for levying those fines and fees.

Calendars for every judge will be available for several months at a time instead of just two weeks.

Possibly the highlight of the new site is the ability for traffic offenders who want to plead guilty to certain types of offenses, to do so from the comfort of their couch with their laptop open and their credit card at the ready.

That took special permission from the Illinois Supreme Court.

"They've always been able to pay online, but now, instead of mailing in the blue copy of the ticket, you can log on, find your case, enter a plea of guilty, send payment and apply for traffic safety school if you qualify, all online," Blakeman said.

The site warns users who want to do so that they are taking a serious step by admitting guilt online.

Blakeman and her staff plan two additional sessions for folks interested in an introduction to the site and e-filing. They will be held Aug. 17 at the Urbana Free Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and Aug. 30 at the Champaign Public Library from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

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wayward wrote on August 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

Wasn't able to open the URL in the story (http://champaigncircuitclerk.org/), though that might be temporary hosting/networking issues.

Katie Blakeman wrote on August 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

Hi Wayward, 

The DNS switch can take up to 24 hours to populate, so it may be some time before the new link works. I will post an update once it does. In the meantime, our old url cccircuitclerk.com is still live. 

Katie Blakeman

wayward wrote on August 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

Thanks, Katie! Looking forward to seeing it.

Katie Blakeman wrote on August 10, 2017 at 10:08 am

Check again - it looks like it's up now! 

wayward wrote on August 10, 2017 at 10:08 am

Thanks, that looks pretty good.  Do people with minor traffic tickets have the option of signing up for court supervision through the site?  Very minor suggestion -- I'm used to searching with "<LastName>,<FirstName>" and that site doesn't want the comma.  Could they automatically strip commas out if they're entered?

787 wrote on August 10, 2017 at 9:08 pm

Too bad that the information shown for me is not complete.  Great job in developing this!

Yet another example of Champaign County.... leading from behind.  Our State's Attorney is a joke, and the court records shown on this website are incomplete.