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Maumee municipal court aims to streamline operations

Probation reporting kiosks are in works


Though he is tech-saavy, Judge Gary Byers is concerned about protecting court data.

The Blade/Lori King
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Participating in a regional computerized kiosk system where low-risk offenders can report to their probation officers by scanning paperwork, such as attendance records for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, is one way Maumee Municipal Court is working to streamline operations, improve client service, and reduce costs.

Details on the kiosk were among those presented by Judge Gary Byers, who last week outlined the court's 2010 annual report and discussed plans for the coming year.

In December, the Ohio Supreme Court, after a review of the municipal court's operations, issued observations and recommendations, and some of the recommendations are under consideration, such as working with the city to pilot electronic filing of tickets.

That program, which would save police and court funds, could be operational this year, the judge said.

A long-term goal of the court is to move to a paperless system. No date has been set, but Judge Byers said he anticipates within five years, he will use his digital signature on court documents.

Judge Byers is a techy-sort of guy (OK, he calls himself "nerdy" when it comes to electronic gizmos and gadgets), but he is concerned about protecting court data, such as through a reliable archival system off-site, when the court goes paperless. "I worry about putting all of our electronic eggs in one basket," he said.

Also, he wants to make sure a paperless system isn't just change for the sake of change. Such a system would need to keep up with the fast-paced court, and would need to enhance its efficiency, he said.

Judge Byers, chairman of the Ohio Supreme Court's Commission on Technology and the Courts, is involved in a project that would facilitate the exchange of data between courts and justice system partners via the Ohio Courts Network. The goal, the judge said, is to hook up all courts in the state which would allow courts to share information electronically. Maumee uploaded its information into the network in February.

The court's territorial jurisdiction covers the southern Lucas County areas of Maumee, Waterville, Whitehouse, Providence and Waterville townships, and portions of Swanton, Monclova, and Springfield Township.

Judge Byers said the court cut operating costs last year, such as by trimming overtime and using video arraignments.

Video hearings were conducted 862 times last year, reducing travel time, transportation costs, and risks related to transporting defendants.

The court generated additional revenue last year through an amnesty program that brought in $41,150 and disposed of 192 cases. The one-time program allowed defendants to dispose of their cases and at the same time increase court revenue.

For defendants who came forward and paid their court bills in full, the original fine amount was reduced and additional warrant fees were waived. The program gave many defendants an opportunity to reinstate their driver licenses that had been suspended because of unpaid fines and costs, and it got a number of people out from under debt to the court.

"I consider that a success," Judge Byers said.

The court's probation department in 2010, along with three other probation departments in Lucas County and the Northwest Ohio Regional Information System, were awarded a grant to develop a countywide kiosk reporting system.

"In forming this collaboration, it is the hope of all organizations to benefit from a reduction of human and economic resources currently used and needed elsewhere. Looking at what is happening statewide regarding the criminal justice budget deficit, it appears that Lucas County is ahead of the curve in moving forward with this project," the court report states.

The plan calls for five kiosk machines to be placed throughout the county for clients to report to; three would be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the other two would be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Maumee's kiosk, to be in the police station, would be primarily for pretrial reporting.

Instead of reporting in person to the office, a client would be able to report into any kiosk at the available times and answer programmed questions. A secure identification system would be in place to make sure the correct client reports in, Maumee court officials said. Paperwork required could be scanned and sent to the probation division.

Clients and probation division staff would be able to leave messages as well.

The new kiosk system is designed to reduce redundancy in the county criminal justice system.

For example, if "Johnny" reports in for the Maumee court, the software would recognize that "Johnny" is on probation in Oregon and will ask questions programmed by the Oregon court.

Also, if "Johnny" picks up a new case in Toledo and is placed on probation there, Maumee and Oregon would be notified.

Other information, such as drug testing results and probation compliance, could be shared by the courts as well.

Courts are in the final testing stage for the regional kiosk reporting system, said Katy McPherson, chief supervision officer for the Maumee Municipal Court. She projected a late April start-up.

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