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Circuit clerks prepare for the start of e-filing

Efforts are underway to bring circuit clerks across the state online and capable of electronic filing, beginning with 14 pilot counties.

Those counties are scanning documents and case files so records can be accessible by the public and they are installing software to enable electronic filing.

Matt Arrowood, who heads up the project for the West Virginia Supreme Court, said Jefferson and Marion counties will be the first to launch.

The others - Berkeley, Braxton, Cabell, Hampshire, Harrison, Lewis, Lincoln, Morgan, Ohio, Randolph, Upshur and Wood - were picked because they already were using a Morgantown-based software program that will help the Supreme Court bring all counties in the state into the new technology.

"Electronic filing for attorneys will mean you can file a document 24/7 at the clerk's office, even when the courthouse is closed," Arrowood said.

"The attorneys cut down their costs of going back and forth to the courthouse," he said. "They can pay electronically with a credit card and can have documents instantaneously. It's immediate."

A similar system is already in place in the state's federal court system, with e-filing and PDF documents available to legal professionals and the public at any time remotely.

Arrowood is traveling the state to educate attorneys on the new technology. But mostly, he has discovered that most are ready for the advances.

"They are coming up and telling me it's not that drastic of a change for them," he said.

Within the 55 county clerks' offices, however, that may not be the case.

"There is the fear of technology for some people," Arrowood said. "People sometimes don't like a new way of doing business."

Don't count Jefferson County Clerk Laura Storm as one of those who is hesitant to make the improvements. Storm has led her own office update and is prepared to take what she knows to other clerks as the change comes.

Already, Jefferson County jurors can check her website to see if they are needed for a trial each day.

"We're the bedroom community of D.C.," Storm said. "We have a lot of high-tech people who don't want to call a jury line each day. I have more demands on me here, this is a very educated community and they expect a lot."

Clerks there have scanned court documents all the way back to the 1859 John Brown trial. Those are available for viewing on her website, but others can be viewed on public terminals in the clerk's office.

Soon, in Jefferson County and statewide, such court documents will be able to be viewed or purchased via a computer anywhere.

Kanawha County isn't part of the pilot project, but Clerk Cathy Gatson said steps are being made on those same advances.

"We launched e-filing in 2008 and we have millions of documents filed and served in mass litigation cases," Gatson said. "We have been scanning since 2004 and we've just been awarded some funding from the county commission which will allow every employee to have a desktop scanner."

Gatson said, "This could be the most serious recordkeeping initiative in 25 years. And a statewide, unified system through the Supreme Court will tie it all together.

"In terms of paper processing, we think it's a worthwhile effort," she said.

The Supreme Court will pay for the software upgrade in each county. For now, Arrowood said efforts are being concentrated on scanning court documents, using interns to go into some counties where manpower is short.

"We aren't scanning in every county yet," he said. "But we're getting there."

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cherylc@dailymail.com or 304-348-4832.


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