By Rachel Baldauf
Counties in southeastern North Carolina will not transition to the eCourts digital record management system until 2025, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Mecklenburg and Wake counties transitioned last year to the $100 million eCourts system. The state has announced plans to expand the program to 44 more counties within the next year. But nearly 40 counties, including Bladen, Columbus and Robeson, will have to wait another year.
Since its rollout last year, eCourts has been accused of creating backlogs in the court system and violating people’s rights. In October, a technical issue with Mecklenburg County’s eCourts system prevented magistrates from scheduling court dates for about six hours, WCNC reported. A class-action lawsuit was filed in May alleging that mixups in the system have led to people being wrongfully jailed and arrested multiple times on the same warrant.
Proponents of the system say it is an important modernization that will increase transparency and save time. The first two phases of the eCourts rollout saved more than 2.3 million sheets of paper by transitioning paper files to digital formats, the North Carolina Administrative of the Courts Office estimated.
“Online access to court records and filing is a long-overdue convenience for the legal system and the public it serves,” AOC Communications Director Graham H. Wilson said in a written statement.
The implementation plan for eCourts puts the state’s counties into 10 groups, called tracks.
“Each track groups judicial districts together, and the rollout plan considers a range of factors including hardware deployment and infrastructure needs, caseload volume, optimal training and tech support, and a priority to avoid seasonal severe weather on the coast and in the mountains,” Wilson said in a statement.
Although many counties will not go live with eCourts until next year, Wilson says preparations will begin in many places.
“Counties not in Tracks 1-6 will receive hardware infrastructure installations to enhance WiFi, cabling, and other technologies accessible in courthouses,” Wilson said.
Counties will also have access to virtual and in-person training sessions and other resources to help lawyers and court officials familiarize themselves with the new system.
Despite the complaints about the eCourts implementation, Wilson said much feedback has been positive. Still, the new system will be a big change for counties across the state.
“Transitioning paper processes to digital files requires significant change management and user training,” Wilson said.