published Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Juvenile Court office joins digital age

Hamilton County Juvenile Court finally is going digital.

Juvenile Court Clerk Gary Behler and his staff are finishing up a year of drilling, wiring, upgrading computers and archiving thousands of paper files in an effort to digitize much of the court's content. He oversees two offices -- one at Juvenile Court on Third Street and the Child Support Division on East Main Street.

Both offices are way behind the technological times. The child support office didn't have email before this year, and at Juvenile Court, the upgrades have been like "jumping from horse and buggy to space shuttle," he said.

"This was kind of like an island out here," Behler said of Juvenile Court. "It was not connected in any fashion."

In August, both Juvenile Court clerk offices introduced digital recording of court and child support proceedings, replacing the old cassette-tape model.

Digital recording saves workers more than 15 minutes per request, said Kristie McGowan, technology and procedures coordinator. The old process took about 20 minutes as workers located the correct tape, searched for the necessary hearing, located the requested testimony and set up the machine that copied it for lawyers, clients and court reporters.

"Now it takes five minutes, copied and everything," McGowan said.

Before Behler was elected in 2011, the county set aside capital funds for the upgrades. Behler requested the already-budgeted capital funds and worked with the county to draft a request for proposals for equipment and software. These changes, which cost about $40,000, were long overdue, Behler said.

When he first attempted to take the Child Support Division wireless at the first of this year, the connection failed. Though computer speeds had been upgraded and wireless routers put in place, moisture content in stacks of paper in the office killed the signal, Behler said.

"There were so many files from floor to ceiling and on every wall in that office the signal couldn't get through," he said. "That led us to our purging process."

More than 14,000 files were moved from the child support office to county archives on Dayton Boulevard near the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office annex. Once space was cleared in the Juvenile Court office, the wireless connection began to work.

Behler also introduced software to keep digital track of child support payments at the office window.

"They were still writing handwritten receipts [at the window]," Behler said.

For years, those handwritten receipts showed up as "dings" against the office's recordkeeping in city audits, he said.

Cathy Jones, a 27-year county employee who now serves as the Third Street center's office director, said the upgrades have made the office more efficient. Juvenile Court dockets are sent electronically, saving the county as much as 1,300 copy pages per week.

"We're not in the Dark Ages anymore," Jones said.

Behler's goal ultimately is to create digital files of some types of court records so that they can easily be searched and filed on servers and hard drives.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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