WALKER -- Court administration serves as the records arm of Minnesota's district courts -- forever.
Records made before 1936 have been transferred to the state archives, said Cass County Court Administrator Paulette Storm. All records since then are retained in fireproof vaults at county courthouses.
It is the collection spot where all cases are filed for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, police and sheriff's departments, the county attorney, social services, child support and environmental services, Storm said.
Court administration also serves as the traffic violations bureau, where people can go to pay traffic tickets without going to court, she said.
When Storm began working in that office 25 years ago, clerks wrote records into docket books by hand. They made copies with a hand crank mimeograph machine, she said.
While court minute sheets still are handwritten notes on paper forms, master records have been entered into computers since 1990.
Computer-generated, typewritten paper records continue to be kept in files in fireproof vaults as working copies, but now permanent computer disk back-up copies also are kept in the vault at First National Bank of Walker, Storm said.
Older, permanent records have been microfilmed.
District and county courts were separate units 25 years ago. Today, they have been combined into one district court. Divisions within that include family, child support, conciliation, probate, juvenile and adult criminal, which consists of misdemeanor, traffic, gross misdemeanor and felony, she said.
Storm said there are many more gross misdemeanor and felony cases being processed today than 25 years ago. Many more types of civil cases have been added through changes in the laws.
Additional types of forms added for each criminal case include an affidavit for the defendant's financial status and race bias data, she said. There are hundreds of forms required now, which previously were not. Time limits for processing cases have been imposed.
There are more hearings per case, she said. People used to waive hearings between arraignment and trial or guilty plea and sentencing, she said.
Today's criminal court procedure includes an arraignment, a first appearance with the defendant's attorney, an omnibus hearing, at least one plea hearing, a possible second plea hearing to change the plea from not guilty to guilty, a possible trial if the plea remains not guilty and ultimate sentencing, she said.
In between, there can be a separate hearing to request bail to be lowered or a hearing to consider violation of terms of release.
Interactive television started to save time for some hearing processes five years ago, Storm said.
If a judge is not available in the county by the deadline date a defendant must be arraigned or released, Storm said a judge in another county can preside at an arraignment hearing via interactive television.
Mental illness and chemical dependency hearings also can connect the person involved and courts here with people providing services in these areas elsewhere via interactive TV.
Witnesses can testify over interactive TV without having to come to the courthouse. People in prison or jail elsewhere can appear over interactive TV from where they are housed without having to be transported to courtrooms in Walker, Storm said.
Additionally, the court's interactive TV has been made available to all county departments for conducting job interviews and providing training classes from sites throughout the state, saving time and travel costs for county employees, she said.
Today, jurors can call a message line at court administration to verify whether they need to report to court on a specific day. This saves a lot of time court employees formerly spent on the phone with jurors to notify them of canceled trials, she said.
The greatest public service innovations have come via the Cass County and state court Web sites. Hundreds of forms are available for the public on those and include good instructions on how to fill out the forms, Storm said.
The county Web site is: www.co.cass.mn.us. The state court site is: www.courts.state.mn.us\home\default.asp.
People needing civil, family and criminal case services can use the Web site forms and go through court without need for an attorney today, she said, adding there is a real push to encourage that as a way to speed the process.
The next innovation expected to begin evolving within the next year is a move to convert all court case management to totally electronic form, Storm said.
Within the next few years, the county attorney will file all complaints electronically rather than on paper complaints. Court orders will be entered electronically in the courtroom.
Though some information required by law to be kept confidential will remain so, Storm said, all public information recorded in court cases then will become directly available to anyone over the Internet and will not require people to come to the courthouse to view or obtain copies of records.
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