Progress slow on electronic court records system
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Monday, February 04, 2013
2/04/13 at 7:38 AM
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Progress toward a statewide uniform electronic court records system continues to move at a leisurely pace, with officials estimating that a single county will be running on the system by the end of 2013.
Originally, at least four counties were supposed to be using the new system by the end of 2012. Currently, Noble County is the only county scheduled to be online by the end of this year, officials said.
Since 2007, Oklahomans have paid for the creation of the new system through a $15 increase in most court filing fees.
The goal is to replace the two systems - OSCN (Oklahoma State Courts Network) and ODCR (On Demand Court Records) - currently used by the state that, until recently, relied mostly on paper records. The systems are known by the acronyms that make up their addresses on the Internet.
Until the new system is operational, residents seeking court records in counties served by OSCN - such as Tulsa and Oklahoma counties - continue to have more access to online records than those in ODCR-served counties. While residents can see a list of actions in each court case, called a "docket," to see the actual court filings they must drive to the courthouse or pay a fee for access in those counties.
Several months ago, a state courts official promised to review the ODCR contractor's practice of charging subscription fees for online court records and allowing only a select group access. To date, nothing has changed, the company has continued business as usual and the court's administrator - Mike Evans - cannot say when a statewide system will be available.
KellPro, the Duncan-based private company that manages computerized court records in the 64 counties serviced by ODCR, allows only Oklahoma Bar Association members to buy subscription access to online records though their website.
In those counties, residents can access court dockets online, but only Oklahoma Bar Association members can download the accompanying documents. KellPro charges a subscription of $50 per month or $600 per year.
Residents who are not members of the state bar association have to drive to the county courthouse, ask to examine documents in person and pay up to $1 per page for copies.
Open records advocates have said the practice appears to violate the spirit of the state's Open Records Act by allowing a select group access to online records and not the public.
Mike Evans, administrative director of the courts, told the Tulsa World in September that he had asked the Supreme Court to examine the practice by state contractor KellPro. Evans said court officials had received several complaints about the practice.
This week, Evans said the court had reviewed KellPro's practice of selling subscriptions to bar association members "informally" and decided to let it continue. However, Evans said "the court was a little taken aback that it happened without their approval."
For its part, KellPro maintains that the state governs what the company is allowed to do in regard to charging subscriptions.
"We haven't had any contact from them regarding changing anything," said Leah McCann, an executive assistant at KellPro.
Evans said Supreme Court officials did not regard the practice as a potential Open Records Act violation because the records are still searchable online, and the corresponding documents are available to the public at the court clerks' offices in each county.
"(The court) decided that we needed to stand pat on this thing because it's just a matter of time before the new system comes online," Evans said.
Court officials have been promising such a statewide system available to the public for years. While no system is yet in place, the courts have continued to collect fees to pay for it since 2007.
Noble County is scheduled to be the first ODCR county to move to the new system, followed by Pottawatomie County. Evans could not give a firm timetable for the rollout of the new system.
He said though there had been "growing pains" with the massive project. Court officials are on a "pretty aggressive" schedule for getting the rest of Oklahoma's counties on the new system, Evans said.
State Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, said he's bothered by the court system allowing KellPro to charge the public for records the company is already being paid by taxpayers to manage.
"The courts are profiting, the counties are profiting, KellPro is profiting - and the taxpayers are losing," Reynolds said.
The unified online system was supposed to be developed years ago, he said.
"There have been millions spent on this system, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court keeps failing to do anything because the Legislature fails to act by cutting their budget," he said. "That's the only way to hold the Supreme Court accountable, but the weak-kneed legislature won't do it."
When a user clicks on a link to an image for a document in an ODCR court filing, this is what appears now:
"Accessing Oklahoma District Court Images
Thank you for your interest in image access for Oklahoma District Courts.
ODCR.com is a privately owned service that works with the court clerks to provide their records online.
We are currently under contract with the Administrative Offices of the Courts and the Oklahoma Supreme Court to assist in the transition to the new unified state-wide system. The Supreme Court has indicated that the new system will provide access to data and images to the public for free.
Prior to our contract with the AOC, we worked with the court clerks to provide image access to members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. Soon after this, we entered into the contract to assist the Supreme Court in transitioning to the new unified state-wide system and all access to court images is governed by that contract.
As a result, we are limited to providing access to active members of the Oklahoma Bar Association. We are not allowed to authorize exceptions, and we cannot grant access to an individual Oklahoma District Court.
Once again, thank you for your interest. We apologize that we are unable to provide access to everyone at this time, but we look forward to the implementation of the new unified state-wide system that will provide these much-needed services for free!"
Original Print Headline: Uniform system of state court records lags
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477