Backlog cleared for online court records

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An uproar at the Duval County Courthouse in September has calmed down to nearly business as usual.

The state Supreme Court ordered that effective July 3, personal information in court records — such as financial and medical information, names of juveniles and Social Security numbers — must be redacted from documents before they are made available online.

The new protocol meant the Duval County Clerk of Courts staff had to review and redact more than 28,000 online records already in the system while attempting to keep up with the steady influx of new records needing to be entered into the the office’s Online Resource E-portal.

The immediate access to the records to which people had become accustomed was gone. That’s what caused the uproar.

On Sept. 30, about 600 of Jacksonville’s roughly 3,600 attorneys and others went to the courthouse to register their displeasure at no longer being able to instantly access court records online.

Hank Coxe, former president of The Florida Bar and The Jacksonville Bar Association, said then that by the time lawyers were finally able to access records — sometimes as long as a six-day delay — they no longer needed them.

Coxe said Friday that has changed.

“If you look at today versus when the change started, it’s as different as night and day,” he said. “I’m not hearing the chorus of complaints.”

Krystal Watson, clerk’s office chief administrative officer, said staff worked overtime to eliminate the backlog created when the change was implemented and the time to process a request for a record has tremendously decreased.

When the new system began, the clerk’s office fielded about 1,000 telephone calls and emails with questions, concerns and rants, Watson said. By September, calls related to the new rules dropped to about 50 for the month.

Since July 3, most records are evaluated by software that looks for key words and number sequences to identify documents that might have to be redacted. The clerk’s office staff then checks each record to ensure the software’s accuracy before a document is posted online.

In July, she said, 90 percent of requests were processed within 10 days. In August, 90 percent were processed within six days and by September, 90 percent were processed in three days and 73 percent were available within one day.

“It’s been quite the ride,” Watson said.

The Duval clerk’s office receives on average 44,000 e-filing transactions each month, comprising 70,000 documents that must be processed.

The office also has since July 3 processed 75,000 requests for documents that weren’t immediately available online, equal to 500,000 pages that were requested and processed.

Some documents, including judgment and sentence orders, finding of probable cause and civil traffic citations, are not required to be reviewed and are posted online as soon as possible after they are received.

Watson said now that the clerk’s staff and the legal community have adjusted to the new procedures, the office will continue to make “tweaks and adjustments” to increase efficiency and decrease processing time for document requests.

She also said the procedure that was the only option before electronic access went into effect still is available and it offers while-you-wait service for document requests.

“All you have to do is come to the courthouse and visit the clerk’s office,” said Watson.

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