Floyd to the future

The SE Texas Record Sep. 6, 2008, 10:00am

No, this digital thing isn't a fad.

172nd District Judge Donald Floyd has confirmed as much. He officially jumped on the Internet bandwagon last month, ordering local lawyers to start e-filing their lawsuits with his court, rather than bringing paper ones in person.

Floyd said they should use software and computers and bandwidth and all that technology stuff. Typewriters, paper clips and copy machines, be damned.

The judge deserves credit for the move, even if Jefferson County is five years late to the e-filing party. Ours now joins 35 Texas district courts that already require digitally filing, saving time and taxpayer expense.

A 2006 study by the Travis County District Clerk found that processing a paper filing took two to three days, versus 30 minutes for an electronic one. In emergency cases, this time savings can prove critical for judges, who cannot review cases until they're in the system.

Then there's the larger benefit for taxpayers and voters, for whom digitization provides a brave new window into the day-to-day goings on of the justice system.

Court documents have always been "public" records. But stacked in file cabinets collecting dust, key documents such as complaints and court transcripts remain mostly hidden from the prying eyes of non-lawyers. While practically hidden from public view these documents often can be the most interesting government archives.

Here in Jefferson County, either we find and write about those documents, or you probably won't know about them. Digitization means the court can do far better than that at almost no cost--with a greater benefit for local citizens.

Which leads to what Judge Floyd's next step should be, now that he's embracing technology.

Issue another order making these e-file documents available not just to courthouse staff and judges, but to all via the Internet. Open their contents to the web, and make them searchable via engines such as Google and Yahoo.

How about it your honor?

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