Busy courthouses like Ellis County’s can farm out some of their document processing and paperwork starting in 2021.

That’s when the state’s judicial branch rolls out a new web-based data management system that will also be used by the public.

The $11.5 million system will connect all the file documents for court cases in the 105 counties in Kansas, including Ellis County’s.

Being connected will allow the counties to share work, according to Chief Judge Glenn Braun, head of the 23rd Judicial District.

“It’s a great benefit for the rural counties,” Braun told the Ellis County Commissioners on Friday during a public budget session at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.

“With the loss of population, the reduction of case loads, the fear is that courthouses will be one of the next things to go. Clerks in Gove or Cheyenne counties can then assist Johnson County, Sedgwick County, Shawnee County, right from their courthouse with this new case management system,” Braun said. “They’ll work out what’s called a work share. So the Gove County clerk on a slow day may be doing processing for Sedgwick County, and keeps their building open and their staff on site, which will be a benefit to the rural counties in the long run.”

Some of the state’s district courts aren’t as busy as others, said Amanda Truan, court administrator for the 23rd Judicial District.

“We have some courts that are extremely busy,” Truan told the county commissioners on Friday. “I think Ellis County is one of those. At least in our district, we are the busiest court, and we can farm that work out to other smaller counties, so we can keep those smaller courthouses having business, and keep access to justice for Kansans.”

The 23rd Judicial District in the Ellis County Courthouse, 107 W. 12th, covers Ellis, Rooks, Gove and Trego counties. Besides Braun and Judge Blake Bittle, it includes three magistrate judges, Brendon Boone, Douglas Bigge and Richard Flax.

“Cases will be processed faster, the backlog should be kept up,” Truan said. “But that’s a statewide project that the Supreme Court has been working really hard on over the last five years. They’ve been talking about it, and they are finally starting to roll it out.”

A system tailored specifically for Kansas, it is already operating in the 8th and 21st judicial districts, which cover Clay, Dickinson, Geary, Marion, Morris and Riley counties, according to the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration in Topeka.

Once in place, district and appellate case data will be available on a single web-based platform.

“Currently there are 105 case management systems,” Truan told the commissioners. “Although we all run the same system, if an abstractor needs to do their work, or somebody is out doing land work, title work, for oil companies, they currently have to check all 105 of those courts.”

With the new system that won’t be the case when someone types a name into the system.

“It is going to pop up all of the cases, all of the pleadings, in all 105 counties,” she said.

Through a contract with Tyler Technologies, of Plano, Texas, the Kansas system will include all state courts, all judicial districts, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

The Ellis County licenses and system are being paid for by the state of Kansas, Truan said.

“None of that comes out of the county’s budget,” she told the commissioners.

Ellis County is slated to go live in February 2021, Truan told the commissioners.

“Thankfully we were not one of the pilot courts,” she said. “Those two districts are working out all of the bugs for us.”

Ellis County’s court has requested two licenses for the Ellis County Attorney’s Office so it can access the new system, but Truan said they won’t know until February if that’s approved.

“Currently the county attorney has their own case management system that talks to ours,” Truan said. “His system will basically be useless, once we go live.”

Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees cautioned Thursday during his budget session with the commissioners that there could be some unexpected costs to the county. Drees, who isn’t seeking re-election in November to instead run for Ellis County district judge, said the pilot counties have had problems.

“There have been just some horror stories,” Drees said. “One spent almost $200,000, one spent about $150,000, changing everything over to get on this system.”

Those may or may not just be pilot county glitches, he said.

“You could have my successor in office next year coming in here begging for a significant amount of money,” Drees said.

Slowed up by COVID-19, the system was originally set to go statewide by the end of 2021, according to a news release from the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration.

But a May 14 release said counties that were supposed to go online in June are being delayed now until the Kansas Supreme Court lifts its administrative orders that have reduced or eliminated in-person contact.

Those are: Anderson, Coffey, Franklin, Osage, Bourbon, Linn, Miami, Cherokee, Crawford, Labette, Chautauqua, Montgomery, Cowley, Allen, Nesho, Wilson and Woodson, said the release.

Ellis County is in Phase 5 of the rollout.

Even with the roll out delayed, state staff continue working remotely on some aspects of it, the May 14 release said. That includes programming and testing the system to report data to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Revenue Division of Motor Vehicles; and working directly with prosecutors and sheriff departments who need access.