MOBILE — Smaller dockets and efficiency are among the expectations a new software system will bring to Mobile Municipal Court, Administrator Nathan Emmorey said.
The new Tyler Technologies Incode system should be completely implemented in October and will replace three decades-old systems the court currently uses to manage cases, store data and receive payments, he said.
“Right now, we are on track for that October date,” Emmorey said. “We’ll see if we’re able to maintain that. I know a lot of staff has been working very, very hard to do that and … there’s a lot of work to be done to get our files into Tyler and to make sure the data in Tyler is good data.”
Municipal court will be the first entity to benefit from the software system eventually expected to be implemented citywide. It was approved last year. Implementation of the entire $2.2 million system is expected to take two years.
The new software should help the court become “virtually paperless.” The current system requires a paper overlay, which tends to result in bottlenecks during the payment of fines and case management, Emmorey said.
“Our current system requires both the electronic and a physical stack of paper that has to be brought into the courtroom,” he said.
The new system will allow for live posting of payments, the results of which will be evident on Thursdays, during the court’s time-to-pay docket. Currently, those who pay fines on their court date to avoid a hearing still have to appear because of the speed of paper system. Rather than adjudicating the case electronically, a judge requires physical proof of payment.
“Because we’ll have live posting and because we won’t have to have that physical file in hand to take a payment, we’re actually going to move our payment windows downstairs,’ Emmorey said. “The payment windows are going to be on the first floor.”
In addition, the paperless case management system will allow the court more flexibility when deciding if a case even needs to come to court, Emmorey said. The court will be able to set up digital queues that a judge can access remotely. This is important when it comes to continuances or other motions. Currently, the paper system slows down processing of such motions.
“I think a lot of the motions we do in municipal court don’t actually need to come to court,” he said.
As an example, if an attorney files a continuance, the attorney who made the motion still has to come to court to make sure it’s granted.
“We’re kind of slow with our processing of motions,” Emmorey said. “That’s just some processing that we’re working on. It shouldn’t be that way and we’re working on it now, but it’s going to be far more effective when we have Tyler and we can route it through the queues ….”
An attempt to go paperless a few years ago using a suite of different software programs allegedly failed, Emmorey said, resulting in different processes for the environmental, criminal and traffic dockets.
Emmorey said the existing system doesn’t allow for easy cross-training, meaning each clerk generally works on a particular docket, rather than all of them.
“It makes one person too important,” he said. “Once we have Tyler up and running we’ll be able to rotate our clerks more effectively through the different dockets, creating a broader knowledge base.
“I’m certainly not saying the clerks are not important because they’re where the rubber meets the road,” Emmorey clarified, “but as far as court processing goes, on individual dockets, an individual court clerk will not be so important that their loss will damage or hinder the court.”
Instead of one person handling the pre-docket, court and post-docket processes, which can take up to one month, Emmorey said staff members, using the Tyler system, could be cross-trained and each could then work on a portion of every docket.
Still, the new technology is expected to create some problems, at least initially. The court is operating on a skeleton crew of 14 clerks and office assistants currently, Emmorey said, and he’s not sure how big the staff will need to be when the new system is launched. Ideally, the court could use five more staff members to maintain the current system.
“I’ve been slow to hire because I needed to see what kind of employment levels we actually needed,” he said. “ … As we develop our new case process we’ll once again have to assess what kind of tasks … actually need to be performed.”
Emmorey added that the new system could potentially slow things down in court, initially, while staff is getting acquainted with it.
“Nationwide, Tyler has more than 800 municipal court clients using the Incode system, including 15 in Alabama,” Tyler spokesman Tony Katsulos wrote in an email message. Locally, courts in Robertsdale, Loxley and Saraland have implemented it, he wrote.
Gulf Shores was listed by Katsulos as using the technology, but Clerk Kenneth McKenzie said they used the software for four months in 2006 before switching back to their old system. He said, at that point, the system “wasn’t ready for Alabama” and what state law requires.
“At the time, they weren’t what we were used to,” McKenzie said.
Biloxi, Mississippi, has also used the system since 2007. Clerk Pamela Trochesset said at first the experience wasn’t positive. She said the staff did not get good training on the system initially and did not ask enough questions about it. Trochesset said Tyler was good about answering the questions once staff was engaged and the kinks were eventually worked out.
She called Incode a “good system” and said the information it gives for the running of reports is much better than Biloxi’s old system.