The following article provides some of the project details for the CITOC award winner submitted by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. In their submission they wrote that:
“On June 24, 2013, Alamance County became the first county in North Carolina to implement the Electronic Protective Order System (EPOS) which greatly increases the safety of domestic violence victims and allows for streamlined, efficient processing of domestic violence orders initiated from a secure, non-public remote location.
This E-filing system allows victims to go through the entire process of obtaining an ex parte protective order from a non-profit domestic violence assistance center - the Alamance Family Justice Center. Now domestic violence victims with assistance from a Domestic Violence advocate can complete a complaint online at the center and submit it electronically to the Clerk of Superior Court’s Office. The clerk swears the victim to the complaint using a video phone, issues an electronic summons, and automatically indexes the complaint into the Civil Case Management System.
The system then forwards the complaint as well as a draft ex-parte order to a district court judge for hearing. The victim is allowed to appear before the judge in chambers via a webcam to provide testimony. If the ex parte protective order is granted, it is automatically transmitted to the Family Justice Center and printed for the victim. The order is also transmitted to the sheriff’s office where it is immediately available for service.
A full hearing is held in a courtroom approximately 10 days after service. At the initial hearing and full hearing the judge uses a workstation located at the bench to review and amend a draft order that is populated from information entered on earlier documents. The judge may e-sign a full (one year) domestic violence order, dismiss the complaint, or continue the matter.
Electronic continuances allow the judge to enter additional information such as new restrictions on the defendant. Once e-signed by a judge, law enforcement can view full orders as well as ex-parte orders on their laptops or mobile devices. Text messages with updated case status are also sent to the mobile devices of the registered parties.
Court Business Processes Impacted
Prior to the implementation of EPOS, domestic violence victims had to travel to multiple locations to obtain a protective order. Victims often first visited the Family Justice Center for counseling and were given forms to request an order. They then had to take their completed complaint to the county courthouse so that it could be filed with the clerk. The victim then needed to travel to a courthouse annex where ex parte hearings were scheduled in civil court. Once the protective order was granted and signed by a judge, the victim was also responsible for taking it to the sheriff’s office so that it could be served on the plaintiff. Having to travel publicly to multiple locations, usually following a violent abuse incident, not only left the victim vulnerable to an additional attack, but also increased the risk that the victim would feel too vulnerable to follow through with seeking a protective order. Prior to the implementation of the E-filing system, approximately 12% of victims failed to complete the process once started.
Victims are also more comfortable relaying their testimony of abuse to the judge in a private, secure video setting rather than having to re-live these details in a packed courtroom as was the practice prior to the implementation of EPOS. As a result of being able to remain at one secure location, victims are also much more likely to seek and obtain other victim services offered at the Family Justice Center. With the prior manual process involving multiple locations, it often took victims 10 to 12 hours to obtain a protective order. The process can now be completed in one or two hours depending upon judge availability. Because the victim remains at the Family Justice Center, this wait is often used to provide counseling.
With the former process, clerks and judges spent approximately three and a half hours per order. That time has now decreased to approximately 45 minutes per case.
The E-filing of the protective order and workflow associated with it were accomplished in contract with an E-filing vendor and with the services of the NCAOC Technology Services Division. The vendor provided the system for capturing and forwarding the documents through the workflow system. NCAOC provided the interface technology and programming to integrate the data on the forms into the statewide Civil Case Processing System (VCAP). Both Alamance County and NCAOC worked to define the business process and validation rules necessary to process the protective order.
The system employs J2EE architecture, HTML, LegalXML, Windows server, WebSphere Application Server, and IBM DB2 database technology. Video phone provides the mechanism for video conferencing between the Family Justice Center and the Clerk of Superior Court’s Office.
County video conferencing is used for communication between the judge and the victim seeking a protective order. Mobile technology is also utilized to provide law enforcement officers the ability to access active protective orders from the patrol car.
The project has been extremely well-received by all affected parties, as well as the media. This system has helped improve the judiciary’s image by putting victims’ safety first, by streamlining a formerly disjointed process, by reducing paperwork, and by increasing the number of protective orders completed and issued.”