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Posted on Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Washtenaw County Trial Court planning $2M upgrade to electronic records

By Amy Biolchini

The Washtenaw County Trial Court is looking to implement a $2 million upgrade this year to its outdated electronic filing system that's on its last leg.

As the vendor for current filing system, Enact, is out of business and the county’s IT staff member that knew how to repair it had to leave his position, there’s no safety net in place should the system crash.


The Washtenaw County 22nd Circuit Court at the corner of Huron and Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor. It's one of two courts in the county's Trial Court. file photo

The 15-year-old electronic filing system is the backbone of operations for the Trial Court.

“We’re really in a tenuous position,” said Dan Dwyer, court administrator. “There’s no vendor to fix it and there’s no in-house person to fix it anymore. ... If the system goes down, I might as well lock the front door."

The overhaul of the court’s record system to an all-electronic, online portal would be the single biggest change to the county's court system in decades, Dwyer said.

“This would advance us light years,” Dwyer said.

The Trial Court is a merger of the 22nd Circuit Court and Probate Court.

Dwyer said the court has identified a new vendor - Tyler Technologies - for the system and estimated that the upgrade would cost about $2 million.

Court systems in Kalamazoo and Wayne County operate using the Tyler system now.

The court’s $18.6 million budget does not have room to foot the entire bill for the new electronic filing system - and so the Trial Court will have to work with the county administration to find a funding source, Dwyer said. The Trial Court has been saving some of its funds to put toward the new record system, he said.

The Tyler system would allow people to submit their documents electronically for a standard $5 charge instead of mailing them or hand-delivering them to the courthouse. Judges will be able to electronically sign documents through the new system.

Dwyer said he’s anticipating a huge reduction in paper use for the Trial Court with the new system.

Court payments also will be simpler. Dwyer said the Tyler system calculates and tracks late fees automatically -- a role that would have taken the time of two employees. The Trial Court has not been collecting late fees because it doesn't have the staff to allocate to tracking them, Dwyer said.

Dwyer said he anticipates more revenue from late fees because people will now be more encouraged to pay on time.

Under the Trial Court's filing system now, users have to physically come in to the courthouse to review motions filed and case actions. Case files in paper format must be physically reviewed in private kiosks.

The system upgrade would mean that case files from the implementation date forward would be available only in electronic format on the county's servers.

Users would be able to access court motions and a register of case actions remotely through an online portal. However, people would have to travel to the courthouse to review full case files on county computers -- a measure that Dwyer calls "practical obscurity."

"Really, do you want someone to be able to look up your divorce when they're mad at you?" Dwyer said. "If they have to come down to the courthouse to do it, they're not going to."

Old case files will not be put into the new electronic system because it's not cost-effective, Dwyer said.

Dwyer said the Trial Court has been in the process of seeking a new vendor for the past several years, and has worked with the county's IT department to select Tyler Technologies.

The Trial Court was previously a part of a pilot project initiated by the Michigan Supreme Court that was developing a new electronic court records system of its own. Washtenaw County contributed $550,000 to the effort and three years of an employee's time, who has an $80,000 salary, Dwyer said.

The pilot project was supposed to be completed in a year and a half. After five years of no results, Dwyer said the county dropped out of the project and was reimbursed for its $550,000 contribution.

Dwyer said the Trial Court is in the process of negotiating final costs and a contract with Tyler Technologies.

The contract will have go before the Board of Commissioners for approval.

The Trial Court had been waiting to submit the proposal to the Board of Commissioners until after it voted on a potential bond issue for its retiree health care and pension debts -- which had been originally slated for July 10 but is now on hold.

Dwyer anticipated the item could be on the board's August agenda.

The request for the electronic record system upgrade won't be affected by a July 10 vote by commissioners to postpone terminating the Memorandum of Understanding between the county administration and the Trial Court to October. The move was made to give administration more time to work with court staff on the issue.

Commissioner Alicia Ping, R-Saline, introduced the measure in June as a way to seek more control over the Trial Court's lump sum budget agreement.

The Trial Court submits a line-item budget to the county each year for approval, Dwyer said. Should the MOU be terminated -- which sets the ground rules for how the court interacts with the county -- Dwyer said it would give the county board no additional control over court operations.

“Everything we do now, we do collaboratively,” Dwyer said of the Trial Court and the county administration.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 11:20 p.m.

IMO Washtenaw Trial Court judges and administrators wasted valuable funds in minimally participating in the sate court pilot program. There is no reason to go to a private vendor (Tyler) when the state now has a viable, functional, effective judicial information system up and running. How effective will the proposed system from Tyler be in accessibility state-wide?


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 5:42 a.m.

Don't mean to beat-up on Danny. He is a good guy who is Dancing as Fast as he Can. The Circuit Court IT is a 20th Century Train Crash and Circuit Court Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum (who is a lawyer and member of the State Bar of Michigan) is the Chief Dude in Charge! Blame this Train Crash on the utterly Stupid Jack in the Beanstalk fantasy of a Zillion Dollar Bond Issue??? Bring on the Clowns! This is something a Junior High School kid could figure out. And County Guys want Two Million Dollars? And they are saying they need a Giant Bond Issue? Get a life dudes! Do your job!!!


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 5:19 a.m.

What about the district courts? Can anyone look into that and see if this is going to be one system or are the district courts going to have a different one.


Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 11:11 p.m.

My understanding is that the District courts will be on a different system/software program. District courts in Washtenaw recently finished implementing the state-wide judicial information system put out by the Michigan State Court system. Trial Courts could also have gone that route. I think Washtenaw wasted 5 years of the pilot program.

Stuart Collis

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 3:43 a.m.

I knew this was coming but I am not happy about it. Tyler gets all these fees for items that normally would require no filing fee like a notice of hearing or proof of service. A regular motion, thus costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $48 with all the filing fees when normally, it would require $20. Thus, litigation becomes more expensive for everyone and only one private entity profits. It also makes it harder for the pro per litigant to have access to the system. If the state would go to a statewide system like the federal e-filing system where no "convenience fees" are tacked on to the user, it would be more fair for everyone. However, this tips the scale of justice in favor of the wealthier litigant. Worse, this opens up many problems in litigation. Because these "convenience fees" are going to a private company, when a verdict is eventually entered, are these fees taxable costs? The court rule and statutes do not contemplate these fees. Is everyone out money to a private entity in what is supposed to be a public forum? Again, this illustrates the superiority of the federal system of efiling. Hopefully, the state will stop each county and district from adopting its own system and a uniform statewide system can be adopted so that everyone is functioning on the same page and the system is fair for everyone.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 5:21 p.m.

It's about time. The federal courts and other states have been all electronic for many years. But I don't understand the rationale for not allowing full files to be reviewed online. I don't know of any court with an electronic filing system that imposes such a restriction.

Stuart Collis

Tue, Jul 16, 2013 : 3:44 a.m.

I don't know of a circuit court in the state where you can view a full file online. Wayne and Oakland both require you to go to the courthouse to see the full physical file. However, Oakland's system will allow you to see the register of actions on any file.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

It's probably safe to say there's always a lot of unhappy people in a courthouse, but while they've got this $2 million to pay off I bet there will be lots more.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

No Court or County IT maintenance/repair cross-training and no back-up or contingency plan to insure the continued viability of critical operating software equals indefensible administrative failure.

Basic Bob

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

congratulations for getting 15 years out of a computer system. even the operating system is out of support.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

That was my thought also but your post is worded much better, Solitude.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

"the county's IT staff member that knew how to repair it had to leave his position, there's no safety net in place should the system crash. " Did this person leave for personal reasons or were they laid off "to save money"?

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

Bill, it's my understanding that the employee had to leave for medical reasons.

Kyle Feldscher

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

As someone who regularly goes down to the courthouse to review records, I'm absolutely thrilled by this. I wish I had $2,000,000 to donate.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

"the court has identified a new vendor - Tyler Technologies" Tyler Durden?

Kyle Mattson

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

You know NU, I have seen an increasing number of soap vendors at area farmer's markets, maybe you're on to something. On a more serious note, this does sound like a welcomed upgrade for many who work with the court system on a regular basis.

David Cahill

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

This replacement for the present system is long overdue! I confess I'm a lawyer. Everyone needs a day job. 8-)


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

Tyler Technologies is a very good choice. Washtenaw County's Register of Deeds office has used Tyler since 2010 with great service and excellent results. We should look forward to real improvements in the Court's record systems.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

"We're really in a tenuous position," said Dan Dwyer, court administrator. "There's no vendor to fix it and there's no in-house person to fix it anymore. ... If the system goes down, I might as well lock the front door." Oh this does not give me a warm or fussy feeling at all. Just another case of mismanagement years in the making.


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

This is a awesome step in the right direction. The fee is to low in my opinion, I would raise the fee to atleast 10 dollars. The judges and the prosecution need more resources in the county. I really think they should have a newer and much bigger building also. Putting the prosecution office and public defenders office in a new court house might save funds and have better county wide upgrades.

Homeland Conspiracy

Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 11:39 a.m.

Shouldn't they hire a consultant 1st for a million or two


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 12:33 p.m.

Funny Homeland really funny for so early in the morning!


Mon, Jul 15, 2013 : 10:23 a.m.

"The Trial Court has not been collecting late fees because it doesn't have the staff to allocate to tracking them, Dwyer said." Did anyone do an analysis of late fee potential vs cost of an employee to track them? Lost revenue? "Dwyer said he anticipates more revenue from late fees because people will now be more encouraged to pay on time." Huh?