The head of the Kentucky Supreme Court says the past 14 months have been the most challenging in the history of the modern court system.
However, as courts return to full, in-person proceedings, Chief Justice John Minton, Jr., says the judicial system should retain lessons learned from the pandemic.
COVID-19 proved the importance of electronic filing and remote technology in the court system. In recent remarks to an interim legislative committee, Chief Justice Minton said COVID-19 forced courts to pivot to phone and video proceedings.
“If the pandemic had struck a decade, even five years ago, our ability to operate remotely would have been seriously curtailed, but we were able to persevere and use this technology to our advantage," Minton said.
The General Assembly this year approved $14.7 million in technology upgrades for the judicial branch. Most of that, about $10.6 million, will be spent on video conferencing equipment. Minton said not all of Kentucky’s courtrooms have the technology to conduct arraignments and other hearings remotely.
Another $2 million will also be used to create an online portal for self-represented litigants, or people who don't retain a lawyer for their defense. Minton said the goal of the portal is to allow self-represented litigants to interact with the court, receive assistance, and potentially create and file court documents.
Paying court costs, fines, and fees will be much like visiting the ATM across parts of Kentucky by next year. The state will spend $1 million on a pilot project that will install self-service kiosks in select courthouses by January. If the pilot program is successful, Minton said additional kiosks could be placed in commercial locations, such as grocery stores or pharmacies. Similar kiosks are already used in neighboring Virginia to offer essential court services outside of office hours.
The remaining $1.1 million will be invested in the electronic filing, or e-filing system. One improvement will be the purchase of redaction software to protect personal information in electronic court records.