Platte County, Neb., District Court Clerk Marlene Vetick has a problem. As The Columbus Telegram explained, Vetick and her team field hundreds of cases each year from their base on the second floor of the Platte County Courthouse. Whether these cases are criminal, civil or domestic in nature, one thing's for sure – each will be accompanied by a stack of documents that the district court is responsible for storing… forever.
Needless to say, the influx of new cases with no potential of a document clear-out is presenting some major storage issues. Civil filings alone average approximately 700 new cases per year, according to the news source. Currently, the records are stored in two rooms' worth of filing cabinets on the second floor of the courthouse or in the old jail on the fourth floor, but Vetick estimates that these storage receptacles will only be viable for a couple more years before they're completely full.
The race for space
Because of the impending space crunch, Vetick has been actively lobbying to leverage more advanced document storage solutions that will take up far less space, and as a result, the Platte County Board of Supervisors is advocating in favor of changing the state's record retention rules in order to allow digital storage formats. Currently, the state statute only allows for hard copies (i.e. paper files) to be kept on-site or microfilm copies of the information to be created. As Vetick explained to the news source, it's easier and more cost-effective for her and her colleagues to retain the original files, as paper records are more easily accessible and it can cost up to $0.05 per page to transfer documents to microfilm.
If Nebraska's statute is altered to become more flexible in terms of storage options, entities like the Platte County Courthouse will be able to leverage document imaging services that revolutionize the way they manage records. For instance, for the past year, the Ohio County Circuit Clerk's Office in West Virginia has been scanning and uploading new records as they are generated, while simultaneously working their way back through the years of paper records that need to be digitized, according to The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. This is no easy task, as some case files date back to the 1800s, although those that are contemporary and most need to be accessible to the public are obviously being prioritized.
The requirement that district courts permanently store records is at the heart of many of their storage issues – something Sheryl Connolly, Nebraska's trial court services director, pointed out to The Columbus Telegram.
"It would be nice to be able to have a 100-year retention schedule or 50 years," she said, as quoted by the news source. "…It's that word permanent that has really been a hang-up."
"It's an age-old problem, and I know I'm not the only one," echoed Vetick, speaking about the issue of district courts scrambling for storage space.
Indeed, according to Connolly, the Nebraska Supreme Court is aware of the problem and is currently considering whether to approve legal document scanning – a possibility that might become a reality within the next few years. Meanwhile, State Court Administrator Janice Walker noted that saving court records in a digital format is hardly revolutionary at this point and expressed her expectation that digitization will become an approved form of storage for the state's district courts, according to the media outlet.
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