Perhaps no product has been more indispensable over the years in the criminal court system than paper - reams and reams of paper. From police reports to criminal complaints to legal briefs, writs, appeals and judgments the system has always run on countless tons of paper. But that is changing.
On Monday, January 5th, the Merced County District Attorney’s office officially went “paperless”. All of the prosecutors in the DA’s office started the New Year bringing their laptops or iPads to court in order to conduct business.
According to District Attorney Larry D. Morse II, Merced County is only the second county in California to go paperless, after Yolo County. The milestone has been a few years in the making, he said, and puts the Merced County District Attorney’s office on the cutting edge of criminal justice technology.
Morse said “paperless” is something of a misnomer. “A more accurate term would be ‘fileless,’ as there will always be a need for some paper in the court system,” he said. But under a “fileless” system, prosecutors and clerical staff will not spend their work days creating, carrying and storing thousands of paper files as they have for decades. All of their cases and the information needed to conduct their weekly criminal calendars will be accessible from their laptop or IPad while in the courthouse.
In 2010 the District Attorney’s office purchased a new case management system, Prosecutor by Karpel, a St. Louis, Mo. based company with clients in several states that was looking to get a toehold in California’s market. Morse said the company made his office “a discount deal that was too good to pass up. We became their ‘loss leader’ in California and it has proven to be an incredible bargain.”
Morse noted it is something of an irony that California, the home of the Silicon Valley, has lagged far behind other states in criminal justice technology. He described the previous case management system as “antiquated and inefficient in every way. The new system has enabled our attorneys, clerical staff, investigators and victim/witness staff to receive and store police reports, written evidence and court documents electronically and to access and share that information much more quickly.
Morse said the ultimate goal for the new system was always to get the office to operate without paper files as soon as possible. He acknowledged there were some challenges along the way.
“Some of the older attorneys, me most of all, had a more difficult time making a transition from the comfort of paper to computers. Our younger attorneys, who have been raised in a computer age, have stepped into the new system without a hitch,” he said.
The move towards becoming “fileless” was led by Chief Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt and Staff Services Analyst Trish Goodman who Morse described as “relentless in keeping us on task and moving toward our goal.”
“We were really interested in being on the front end of the technology curve instead of bringing up the rear. District Attorneys offices in other states have been fileless for many years. It’s a much more efficient way to conduct business and has the added benefit of being environmentally responsible,” he said.