Merced County, CA Becomes Paper-on-Demand Court
Location: Merced Superior Court, California
Tyler Client: Since 2013
Judicial Officers: 12
Facilities: Six (three courthouses, one courtroom in separate facility, juvenile court and traffic division)
Tyler Products Used: Odyssey Case Manager™, Odyssey Financial Manager™, Odyssey Portal™, Odyssey File & Serve™, Odyssey Judge Edition™, Brazos™ eCitation
Merced County, California, is located in the northern San Joaquin Valley of the Central Valley, with a population of 268,455. The county seat is Merced, and it’s named after the Merced River. Merced, known as the “Gateway to Yosemite,” is less than two hours from Yosemite National Park. The Merced Superior Court used an antiquated case management system, and they sought a comprehensive system to improve efficiency, automate court operations and increase access to court information.
Merced Superior Court wanted to replace its current Judicial Council-hosted case management system with a comprehensive locally-hosted one. This was a complicated task due to limited Court IT resources to perform the implementation. Tyler Technologies stepped in to help the Court with their IT needs to ensure project success.
Merced was the first court to use the Master Services Agreement (MSA). This was developed by a group of IT leaders and court managers within the California judicial system as a way for the state’s Superior Courts to efficiently purchase a case management system without having to expend the resources necessary to conduct their own procurement process. Merced was the third California Superior Court to successfully contract with Tyler in July 2013. Merced Superior Court went live on Odyssey in November 2014 for all case types, including civil, criminal, family law, traffic, juvenile and probate — just 15 months after contract signing.
Implementation in 15 months — Ahead of Schedule
Merced’s hard-working Court staff were highly engaged and supportive during the implementation, which contributed to a successful go-live. Having at least 15 dedicated Tyler staff on site throughout the entire implementation provided advantages. Prior to go-live, Tyler staff organized a mock court session with the judge and clerk to help Merced’s staff feel comfortable with the new system. In addition, they also held a three-week training session, which was videotaped for their internal use and was key to their success. Regular debriefing sessions with supervisors were organized to ensure adoption was successful and Court staff understood how Odyssey worked. During extended shifts and work hours, the entire Court worked together to complete the transition.
Communication was key to our success. Keeping Court staff informed daily was crucial, as well as ensuring they received proper training before going live. Staff’s assistance on preparing the BPR’s and testing was very important. Our project was a success because we had the support of our Judicial Officers and dedicated court staff, and Tyler by our side every step of the way.
Linda Romero Soles
Court Executive Officer - Merced Superior Court, California
Integration with the California Highway Patrol for Brazos eCitation
The Court executive officer read that an animal control officer in a neighboring city in Merced County was issuing electronic citations, which ignited the idea for the Court to do the same. The funding for the electronic citation devices used by the issuing officers was provided by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Sacramento.
Through collaboration with the California Highway Patrol, Merced County implemented Brazos e-citations over a six-month period, enabling citation records to be downloaded from handheld devices directly to Odyssey. As the second court in California to go-live with eCitation, this system streamlined business processes and improved accuracy by eliminating labor-intensive, manual processes and duplicate data entry for handling 2,400 traffic citations per month, approximately 900 from the CHP. Prior to using the handheld devices, CHP’s 7,000 officers issued hundreds of hand-written citations, which they submitted to the Traffic Clerk’s office for entry into the case management system. Often, it was difficult to read the officers’ handwriting, and the citations sometimes lacked important data.
The new system has created time savings, especially for clerks who previously spent 10-15 minutes entering each paper citation into the legacy system. With this time savings, the Court reallocated a job vacancy in traffic to another department that needed resources. Using eCitation also reduced storage space in the Court’s traffic division by eliminating paper. The Judicial Officers who preside over the traffic calendars advise that it’s much easier for arraignment purposes as the document is immediately available. Traffic citations are now made available to the public immediately, usually the next business day, and the Court eliminated four-week delays and backlog in processing paper-based citations because data is now efficiently captured, transmitted and processed.
First California Court to Adopt Criminal E-filing
Merced will be the first California court to go-live with permissive criminal e-filing. This showed their increased responsiveness to their justice partners, especially the District Attorney’s (DA) office, which requested criminal e-filing. This integration will allow the Court and the DA’s office to work more efficiently and faster. In addition to increasing efficiencies, it will also bring convenience to the DA’s office. Currently, criminal complaints (paper documents with attachments) are brought to the Court by a member of the DA’s clerical staff. The ability to send the criminal complaints electronically will save staff time by automating processes and eliminating large paper files. It will also help the environment by not wasting paper or driving to the courthouse to file the documents.
Civil E-Filing Made Case Information Accessible and Streamlined Processes
The Court went live on civil e-filing in July 2015. By using Tyler’s Odyssey File & Serve solution, civil e-filing is more efficient and faster for the Court. The solution has streamlined file processing, cutting processing time in half. Cases are now opened automatically by File & Serve and documents are auto uploaded into the case. Case information is immediately accessible to the judges and staff. Historically, when filing a civil case, staff had to manage a lot of documents, usually not in order with civil e-filing. Now, documents are no longer shuffled around or out of order because the copies come back within the electronic envelope. Previously, clerks had to manually accept financial transactions as part of civil filings. With e-filing, the financial part of the transaction goes directly into the case, eliminating it from the clerk’s control. The clerk simply verifies the information, reducing human error. The financial division is excited that they no longer need to correct financial transaction errors.
Merced also e-files support cases for children through the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). They rigorously tested files daily to ensure functionality for the live system. The testing is important to make certain that everything works correctly and the information contained in the files is saved. In addition, if there are errors in the documents received, the Court has a mechanism for allowing DCSS to correct and resubmit the e-filing information. They process 90 cases per month, on average.
Odyssey Judge Edition Created an Electronic Courtroom
Merced’s judges agree that the strength of Odyssey Judge Edition is its simplicity. Many judges were champions of the system and enjoy using functions, such as notes and tabs. By using tabs, Judge Edition makes it easy to find a specific page in a large document with hundreds of pages. In addition, visiting judges find Judge Edition to be user-friendly. When 15 courts visited Merced and their judges were invited to sit on the bench during court sessions, all the visiting judges agreed that Judge Edition was an extremely useful, easy-to-use application. They also agreed that the application was comprehensive and robust, providing judges with all the critical information they needed on the bench. When asked how they liked the system, they said they “would not go back to the old system.” One of the greatest benefits to using Judge Edition is its ability to keep track of important case files needed on the bench. Before using Odyssey, the Court continuously struggled with locating missing court files, often taking two days to track them down. Today, important case files are no longer missing — they are accessed immediately in Judge Edition.
Increased Access Provides Public Service Improvement
Merced also uses Odyssey Portal, which has given citizens 24/7 access to case information via the internet, eliminating unnecessary trips to the courthouse. The Portal allows the public to make online payments and view court dates. Merced also allows the public to not only view, but also download and purchase court documents. Using the Odyssey Portal saves citizens time and money — citizens can easily access case information without coming to the court, and it cuts down on gas consumption, which helps the environment.
A Bright and Paper-Free Future
The Merced Superior Court is now proud to be a paper-on-demand court. This tremendous accomplishment was enabled by Odyssey and its ability to evolve their manual processes to electronic, as well as the hard teamwork of a dedicated Court staff. Odyssey has helped the Court strengthen relationships among justice partners by increasing collaboration and communication. Using Odyssey has empowered the Court to do more with technology and modernize their processes using technology innovation. They are excited to be an example of operational and service improvements and a leader of technology advancement to other California courts.
In the future, their goal is to do more with technology and take advantage of cloud technology, enabling the Court to store critical and sensitive data in the cloud so that no data is ever lost. The Court also plans to further enhance automation. Going forward, they are hoping to receive additional funding to expand the e-citation program to other justice agencies, which would result in all citations being electronic, improving efficiencies and further enhancing relationships with justice partners.