Doxpop - Tools for Attorneys and Public Information Researchers: Doxpop Opposes Increase in Court Automated Record Keeping Fee

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Doxpop Opposes Increase in Court Automated Record Keeping Fee

I appeared before the Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee to speak in opposition to Senate Bill 301 which proposes an increase in the Automated Record Keeping fee to $10 for all civil, criminal, infraction, and ordinance violation cases. The fee is currently $7 and sunsets to $4 in July of this year.

Here is an approximate transcript of my testimony before the committee and my best recollection of the question and response that followed.

January 26, 2011

Re: Judiciary Committee Hearing - SB301

Chairman Bray and members of the Judiciary Committee:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak before the Committee. My name is Ray Ontko, President of Doxpop, LLC, located in Richmond, Indiana. Doxpop partners with local governments to provide access to information and services over the Internet.

Doxpop currently partners with 155 courts in 51 counties to provide web-based access to court case information to the general public and our subscribers. We also provide on-line ticket payment in 10 counties, and access to recorded documents in 14 counties. We have also developed services that permit access to non-confidential case documents (filings, pleadings, motions, judgments, orders, decrees, etc.) and that enable electronic filing of criminal and citations cases; these await approval by the Division of State Court Administration. All of this innovation and development has been accomplished without charging any fees to local government. Our work is supported through modest enhanced access fees charged to attorney subscribers and other users. We employ 10 people.

I am speaking in opposition to both the temporary and long-term increase in the Automated Record Keeping (ARK) fee contemplated by SB301. Increasing the fee is unnecessary and costly to our citizens. Furthermore, the allocation of such generous funding to JTAC actually stifles technical progress in our court system, and hinders access to public information. Let me repeat that: the fees are unnecessary and costly, and the current method of allocation has slowed technical innovation in the courts and hindered access to public information. Accordingly, I am also asking the Committee to amend the ARK legislation to stimulate healthy competition between JTAC and commercial vendors by leveling the playing field: allocate 3/4 of the fee to local governments to allow them to choose between JTAC or a commercial vendor for their case management system.

Increasing the fee is unnecessary because commercial vendors already operating in Indiana offer full-featured case management systems at a fraction of the cost incurred by JTAC for the Odyssey system. These vendors offer a range of solutions that meet the needs of different sizes and kinds of courts, from the largest counties with many judges and courtrooms, to juvenile courts, and to the smallest municipalities operating traffic courts. Why not stimulate healthy competition between JTAC and the commercial vendors by giving localities a choice in how a portion of the ARK money is spent on their behalf? Does one size really fit all?

The fee is costly to Hoosiers because there are nearly 2 million cases filed annually. An increase from $4 to $10 per case increases the burden on the people of Indiana by nearly $12 million dollars a year. To put this number in perspective, the entire budget of Doxpop is smaller than the income generated by a $1 ARK fee. I'm not asking for any portion of the ARK fee for Doxpop, but all that we accomplish we do at very low cost. If the primary goals of improving court technology and increasing access to court information can be achieved at a lower cost, is it wise to raise the fee?

The fee stifles innovation in our courts because it encourages JTAC to think that it's the only game in town. A higher fee tempts JTAC to believe that it can meet the needs of all courts everywhere without cooperating with or utilizing the strengths of market-based solutions. Commercial case managements system vendors have offered integrated document management, online ticket payment, electronic filing, enhanced access, and a host of other services that can only be offered by JTAC if you opt to increase and extend the fees. By limiting the fee to what is actually needed to get the job done, you will encourage JTAC to think creatively about how to accomplish the work without doing everything internally. Must courts wait for JTAC to get around to these innovations and at what cost?

The fee also has the effect of limiting access to public information. JTAC and the Division of State Court Administration have consistently and repeatedly denied Doxpop and others who have requested access to public information from the Odyssey system. Similarly, the Division has prevented Doxpop from proceeding with making non-confidential court filings available via the Internet. While we agree that appropriate caution and care is necessary when considering new technologies, especially as we seek an appropriate balance between privacy and public access, we wonder why our efforts to move forward are stymied by JTAC and the Division. Is it because they don't want us to offer services that they do not? Is it because they hope to charge fees of their own for enhanced access and bulk access?

By allowing the ARK fee to reduce to $4 per case as planned, you encourage JTAC and the Division to make judicious use of precious funds and encourage cooperation with the marketplace instead of trying to replace it. By allowing local governments the ability to choose whether to spend ARK funding on JTAC or other systems, you give it further incentive to meet the needs of the courts at reasonable costs.

Doxpop shares the goals of the Court and this Legislature in creating a 21st Century case management system for Indiana. We hope that the creative energy and resources of Doxpop and others can be a part of this solution.

Thank you for your consideration. I would be happy to answer any questions you have about my assertions or our direct experience with JTAC or the Division.

Senator Steele: Mr. Ontko, you said something that caught my attention. Can you elaborate on being denied access to public information?

Ray Ontko: Doxpop first began providing public access to Indiana court case information in July of 2002. Our approval to do so was contingent on approval from the Division of State Court Administration who sent Kurt Snyder, Executive Director of JTAC to interview us in Monroe County, our first partner county. In January of 2007 we learned that Monroe would be switching to Odyssey and we contacted Mary DePrez, the new Executive Director of JTAC, to see if we could begin development of an interface for us to receive Odyssey data to prevent a gap in service for our Monroe County subscribers. After a series of delays, it became clear that we needed to make a formal request. On October 25, 2007 we submitted our first formal request for access to Odyssey data. Each year we renew this request. Doxpop and at least 7 other organizations have been denied bulk access to public case information in Odyssey.

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