County’s court records going paperless

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The Shelby County Court System is transitioning to paperless records.

In the coming months, the court will implement electronic filing in several divisions.

Shelby County Presiding Circuit Judge Hewitt “Sonny” Conwill informed all attorneys practicing in the county of the changes in a letter dated April 15.

Hewitt said through his letter that the changes are in response to an April 12 administrative order from Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. The order addressed several cost-cutting measures.

E-filing is anticipated in several courts, with divisions including small claims, district civil, district criminal, juvenile and circuit criminal.

“It will be wonderful for our office,” Shelby County Court Clerk Mary Harris said. “We’ll be able to be more efficient in working with the public, because when we are not having to hunt down a court file to put a paper in it, that’s a time saver for us.”

Paper files will continue to be used for domestic relations and circuit civil cases, which normally involve the most number of pages in a file. E-filing could eventually be used in those divisions.

“It’s just that right now we’re taking baby steps,” Harris said. “We’re going in the courts that tend to have maybe 10 to 12 pieces of paper in the file.”

The clerk’s office has for several months used e-filing for small claims cases and it’s “working beautifully,” Harris said.

Now, the clerk’s office is working to scan district civil cases into the system before moving on to child support divisions.

“We’re just trying to take one division at a time,” Harris said.

Starting May 15, all notices and orders from the clerk’s office to attorneys will be sent via email through AlaFile and Alacourt.

“It’s to the users benefit, because they might get an order right now three to four weeks behind,” Harris said. “The time frame is going to be cut back, because once the judge enters that order into the system they’re going to get it immediately.”

Shelby County’s court system has previously implemented several other cost-cutting measures, including reducing the overall number of jury trial weeks, trying civil jury cases during criminal weeks and using the same summoned jurors. In addition, Conwill said, the system already uses an advanced juror call-in system.

Bell’s April 12 order authorizes presiding judges in each circuit to close court offices to the general public on Fridays, but Shelby County Court Administrator Jennifer Nalu said Shelby County offices would remain open and conduct business as usual.