NEW MADRID - Today, the slap of the judge's gavel marking the conclusion of a court case is followed by the tap of computer keys. Court cases in Scott, Mississippi, New Madrid and Pemiscot counties are now accessible on the Internet.
It is an innovation under way throughout Missouri with the Bootheel courts among the first to put cases on the World Wide Web.
The public access, called Case.Net, is available from the courts' Website at www.osca.state.mo.us. Records can be searched by case number, litigant name or filing date simply by following the directions on the screen. The service will identify the parties, attorneys, actions that have been taken and documents that have been filed, among other facts.
The circuit clerks in Scott, Mississippi and New Madrid counties give the new system rave reviews.
"We love the system," said Mississippi County Circuit Clerk Karen Turley. "The whole process has helped us speed up case processing, cut out paperwork, track documents better. It is an enormous informational system."
Going online has required a great deal of work by the local circuit court staffs. Conversion work began almost a year ago.
Circuit clerk staff in Mississippi and Scott counties began last June inputting data before going online this January. New Madrid County, which coordinated going on line with Pemiscot County, introduced the system to the clerks last summer and cases became available on the Internet in November.
Pam Glastetter, Scott County circuit clerk, said she is proud of her staff for the work they put in on the system. "They worked hard, put in extra hours. I am exceptionally proud of the job they did to get the information ready for Case.net," she said.
The clerks noted they and their staffs continually seek to ensure the information is up to date and everything is working properly. Turley said she runs weekly reports to double check information as well as backup reports.
New Madrid County Circuit Clerk Marsha Holiman even decided to check it out from the public's standpoint. "I wanted to see if it was user friendly," she explained. "It is!"
While she has a working knowledge of computers, Holiman went on to talk with others about Case.net. Sometimes, she said, it takes a bit of prompting but "I'm finding that anybody who tries it, finds it simple to use. With the Internet increasingly available at work, home and in public places, this is one way to open the courts to people."
Among those particularly finding it useful are those in attorney offices who are searching for a case number, file date or actions taken. The system requires all the state's court clerks to file information in the same format, which should make it easier to find information from circuit to circuit as the system is instituted across Missouri.
And with 19 circuits, including all of Southeast Missouri now online, it allows access to many of the cases concerning local residents. Also Case.net includes cases from the Missouri Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
"Anyone with Internet access can view public case information on the Missouri Web Site," added Scott County's Glastetter. "I think this makes the courts more accessible to the people we serve and at their convenience. There will be no more trips to the courthouse, no more long distance phone calls. I believe the Website illustrates the practical benefits of automation - it is available 24-hours a day."
And for their staffs the Website has proved a real timesaver as well agreed the circuit clerks.
"Anything that we can do to save time and be more efficient is good for the taxpayer," said Holiman. "Even though the economy is sluggish that doesn't mean the criminal business is sluggish, in fact it is on the rise, so if we can do our work more efficiently, it is well worth it."
And the information is available quickly. The circuit clerks pointed out the information goes online quickly and completely.
"What you see on Case.net is exactly what our docket sheets look like," said Turley. "It gives so much information that if someone is just curious about what happen to a case, he doesn't have to sit in court or wait on a newspaper report, information is updated daily."