Judicial Council wants to expand access to court documents.


Byline: Kevin Featherly

The electronic document-retrieval system in Minnesota courthouses that allows people to read opinions, complaints, motions and briefs is on "life support."

Or at least that's how Ramsey County Chief Judge John H. Guthmann phrased it during a Nov. 14 Minnesota Judicial Council meeting. Ann Peterson, the branch's Strategic Planning and Projects Office project manager, gave a one-word answer when asked if that's where things stand. "Basically," she said.

In fact, at least in the short term, that might be a slight exaggeration. But things do appear to be on that trajectory.

The Judicial Branch has been struggling for months to replace its current Minnesota Public Access (MPA) Remote interface. That system has two iterationsone that reaches people's homes and offices via the internet, and one that people access on courthouse terminals.

Only one is being discussed for near-term replacement. That's the onein Washington County District Court Judge John C. Hoffman's colorful phrasethat lets people access digest descriptions of court-case activity while sitting at home in their boxers.

The other one, which people access at public courthouse terminals, hasn't proved nearly as buggy or crash-prone as the home/office version, according to branch officials. The plan is to leave the courthouse iterationthe only one that currently gives people near-total access to courthouse recordsin place for now.

The branch's ambition is to give people access to almost that same level of access via the home/office interface, factoring in statutory and court-rule limitations. Earlier this year, the branch thought it had a solution that not only would accomplish that goal, but do it essentially for freebecause it would have happened under an existing vendor contract.

That company, Tyler Technologies, struggled for more than a year to build the new portal. But ultimately, it failed to deliver one that could perform needed tasks like charging money for document access or differentiating between private and public records. In May, the project was abandoned.

That set the Judicial Council scrambling to find a new solution. The 25-member group began examining its options in earnest on Nov. 14.

Guthmann and others at that meeting expressed worry that the entire MPA Remote system is in trouble because Tyler has announced it will stop supporting the existing system in either iteration.

"Tyler won't support what we're doing in courthouses," Guthmann said...

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