Last updated: December 24. 2013 9:24AM - 603 Views
SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A plan to publicly release court documents from all 77 Oklahoma counties online and free to the public is slowly moving ahead, with Noble County in north-central Oklahoma going live as a test pilot for the ambitious $13 million information technology upgrade.

Marriage licenses, traffic tickets, and criminal and civil documents filed in Noble County are available for anyone with a computer to view from home. They date back decades — some more than a century.

Oklahoma court officials don’t want to expand the rollout until they work out any kinks that might arise in that county. Then they hope to offer the free, online service to Logan County and possibly Kay County in the spring, followed by Payne and Pottawatomie counties, and then Tulsa and Oklahoma counties.

The system will go statewide after that.

Nick Leach, a longtime general practice attorney in the Noble County seat of Perry, said he’s excited about the potential for attorneys to be able to file documents with the court from their office.

“If I want to file something in Payne County … I’ve actually got to plan a trip to Stillwater to do that,” Leach said. “With the new system in place, I won’t have to drive over there. I can do it from the comfort of my office, and it will save me time and it will save my clients money.”

Michael Evans, the administrative director of the courts who is overseeing the project, acknowledged the project is more complex and time-consuming than officials first expected, but said Oklahoma will have one of the most uniform and comprehensive online court systems when it’s complete. He said the state has spent a little more $4 million so far on the $13 million project, which he said remains under budget.

Evans said he expects the Oklahoma Supreme Court to develop formal guidelines by the end of 2014 for what information is made available online, using pilot counties as a guide for which documents should be posted.

“My nature would be to put everything up. That’s not everybody’s nature,” Evans said. “And there are going to be a lot of problems with displaying some of these records, even beyond those that are required to be confidential by law. Obviously, we’re not going to put those up. But there are records that are replete with information.”

Currently, court clerks from each of the state’s 77 counties have their own rules and guidelines for what information is made available online — a system that leads to various levels of public access to online records. And that hodgepodge of procedures has led some state lawmakers to question why more court documents aren’t being made available to the public now, even before the systems are all linked.

“It’s time to get serious about this and get this done,” said Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman. “We may put some sort of guidelines down and say that if a court clerk is making records available online, then by Nov. 1, 2014, they need to make all their records available online.”

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