Hamilton County residents no longer have to go to certain courts to learn what happens inside them.
Since July 17, they can view digitized information related to thousands of Circuit and General Sessions Court cases for free at TennesseeCaseFinder.com.
"It's really going to be a benefit, not just to the legal profession and our judges," said Circuit Court Clerk Larry Henry, "but also the general public, investigative agencies, title companies and collections services, who can go right to it."
Henry said his staff began trudging through thousands of court files, redactions and other confidential information in December 2014. For a conservative estimate of their work, multiply 80,000 cases a year by 40 or so years, Henry said. All told, his clerks processed about 3.2 million different cases without going to county commissioners for funding.
Before this service, most citizens would either travel to the courthouse or call the clerks to get a copy of something. Between both courts, which tend to handle property disputes, wrongful-death litigation, orders of protection and other civil complaints, clerks were receiving about 1,5000 calls a week, Henry said, adding that he reviewed the phone records.
He said this online service will surely help.
"Don't get me wrong," he said. "We're still here to get the calls. I'm sure we're still going to have the phone calls, and residents can still come up to the office and use the public inquiry. But this is going to make it a lot easier for folks."
Elsewhere in Hamilton, clerks are working on similar upgrades.
Chancery Court is developing a similar online filing system that would allow residents to see what happens on each court date, what motions were filed, and who the attorneys are on each case.
"We've filed an application with the Administrative Office of the Courts to get permission to begin online filing of cases, and that's kind of a detailed process," said Clerk and Master Robin Miller.
Residents already can learn a lot about criminal cases by visiting www.cjusgeneralsessions.hamiltontn.gov. The defendant's charges, next court date, and outcome of their charges are listed. And clerks post dockets that show whose case is coming up every week.
Still, the filings aren't digitized yet because the rules of criminal procedure prohibit clerks from posting sensitive information electronically, said Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean, who is partnering with other counties to push to change the rule.
"I have partnered with Knox County, Nashville-Davidson, and if I'm not mistaken, the idea came out of Shelby County, and we are in the process of getting the law changed for some e-filings in the Criminal Courts," he said Tuesday. "Within the next 18 months is what they're expecting."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.