Courthouse goes digital

Published 2:55 pm Monday, February 12, 2024

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In possibly the most significant change to North Carolina’s judicial system since the Judicial Department Act of 1965, the state is transitioning to a paperless eCourts system.

On Monday, February 5, 2024, Dare, Currituck, Tyrrell and Hyde counties, along with Beaufort, Camden, Chowan, Gates, Martin, Pasquotank, Perquimans and Washington counties, became part of a new digital case management system already available in Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Mecklenburg and Wake counties.

An immediate noticeable change for the public is that court records in each of those counties will be searchable online at no cost to the public. Further, attorneys and self-represented parties can file any court document electronically to the clerk’s office in eCourts counties through a single, secure, centralized online site. The system also automatically calculates filing fees and accepts payments.

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Can’t remember your court date? Simply search for it or other hearings by name, attorney, case number, citation or a number of other ways.

Don’t want to go to court for a payable offense? Then make an online credit card transaction to pay any fines and fees and avoid the trip to the courthouse.

Can’t get to the courthouse before closing time? No problem at all since the system is available statewide 24/7.

According to Ryan Boyce, director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, it’s a ┬álong overdue transition that empowers the public with free online records searches, remote electronic filings, and digital access to justice that aligns with the state’s constitutional mandate that the courts be open.

But it does more than that.

During a lunch break discussion at the Dare County Courthouse, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby pointed out that judges will now be able to pull up court documents for review prior to court trials without having to visit the courthouse and physically handle the file.

Of course, with electronic filings there will no longer be any physical file to look at or handle.

One estimate is that so far the five counties using eCourts have accepted more than 405,000 electronic filings. That translates to some 1.8 million sheets of paper saved by eCourts since the platform’s pilot was rolled out one year ago. With roughly 30 million pieces of paper added to court files each year in North Carolina, courthouse vaults have been bulging at the seams for years. Others were already out of storage space. The current transition from paper records to online court files will no doubt allow some clerks of court to breathe a little easier with a shift to online data storage.

The new system was developed by Tyler Technologies, Inc., with corporate headquarters in Plano, Texas, and adapted to court system needs. In recent months, courthouse personnel have undergone hundreds of hours of training in preparation for the switch.

To help get through this week’s system switchover, the Administrative Office of the Courts in Raleigh has provided a large network of IT and software systems teams for on-site assistance, remote monitoring, and help desk response to clerks, judges and magistrates.

The statewide roll-out of eCourts is planned for completion by the end of 2025. For more information about the transition, go to NCcourts.gov/eCourts.

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