An integrated online case management system for the V.I. Superior and Supreme courts has been more than two years in the making, and the newly-unveiled suite of websites gives Virgin Islanders unprecedented public access to the territorial courts.
“This upgrade is a game changer for the Judicial branch, because it allows us to go completely virtual and provide all of our information to the public, the media, and the attorneys so they can have a window into the court. Historically, the court has been sort of walled off from the public — the media has to come into the court, find out what’s going on with this case, get a copy of the filing,” said Kevin Williams, assistant administrator of courts and project manager for the new case management system.
The system, provided by Thompson Reuters, cost a total of $3.8 million to implement and covers internal case management and electronic filing. This will allow attorneys to submit documents long past the traditional 5 p.m. court closing deadline, until 11:59 p.m. on the day of a filing deadline.
The design is “forward thinking,” said V.I. Court Administrator Regina Petersen, and “we’re almost there. I’m not going to say completely. We were really concerned about having a successful project. And we realized it was a monumental task, and we had to chop it up.”
The new online court records system has been initially launched to include new filings, but documents from prior cases will be uploaded for civil and probate cases, and Clerk of the Superior Court Tamara Charles said that staff are working to get criminal case records online by mid-November.
“This year marked 23 years with me here at the court and I started from the bottom up,” when clerks did data entry on basic “green screen” computers, Charles said. “For us to be at this juncture, I take great pride in getting us here. It was a monumental task but it was very rewarding.”
The new systems will improve customer service, and customers can now do many court activities entirely online — a particular benefit during the pandemic, when even court hearings are being conducted via videoconference to ensure social distancing.
“Working at the court for 20 years-plus, I don’t think we would have thought we’d have done remote hearings at the court,” said Charles.
But while arraignment and sentencing via Zoom may have been unthinkable only a few months ago, Petersen said there have already been 1,700 remote hearings in territorial courts as of Aug. 31, and Charles said clerks intend to keep providing remote services even after the threat of COVID eventually subsides.
“The judges are loving it, the public is on top of it; it’s beneficial,” Charles said.
“We view this as a tool, yet another tool in how we dispense justice through the court system,” and will reduce costs and maintenance, Williams said. “Now we can really start the other part of the construction, which is improving disposition of our cases and management of our caseload.”
The cloud-based system is designed to function uninterrupted through hurricanes and other disasters, and the “true story” of its benefits will come in 18 months or so, “in terms of reducing the time to disposition for our cases,” Williams said.
Users can apply for and pay for marriage applications online — a huge benefit to visitors coming from out of the territory.
Customers can also now pay traffic tickets online with any type of credit card, so the system “definitely will help” reduce foot traffic and wait times at court buildings, and Williams said more court fees will be payable online in the future.
Users can search their names to see if a ticket has been filed, and Williams said a “hidden gem” of the system is the ability to search all available documents for information by keyword. There are security protocols in place and all movements on the system are recorded to ensure data is being tracked.
Petersen said court staff are working proactively to help users access records and make payments securely, the system is free to users and open to pro se e-filing, and there is no cost to print records. There are also instructional videos online for users to familiarize themselves with the system.
Court staff thanked attorneys who helped with testing, and encouraged users to report problems and suggest potential improvements.
“COVID, of course, put somewhat of a little delay on us rolling out the final, major piece of the project,” Williams said. “But this project has all along been a vision of Chief Justice Rhys Hodge, trying to extend public access and electronic court filing.”
To access the new court system, visit the following links:
E-File Application — https://usviefile.vicourts.org
Public Access Application — https://usvipublicaccess.vicourts.org
Online payment — http://paymentsvicourt