Texas OCA Rolls Out e-Filing Statewide

Interview with NACM President, David Slayton

Extract: The OCA provides technical and administrative services to 2,721 courts and 3,436 judges across Texas. In your role as administrative director, you supervise more than 200 employees and oversee a $45 million annual budget. Describe a typical day as the Court Administrator of the Texas Office of Court Administration.

Slayton: There are very few typical days as the Court Administrator of OCA. Our office is responsible for providing information and resources in numerous disparate projects impacting the judiciary. Much of my day is spent in meetings with staff, judges, legislators, or other stakeholders. The projects can range from e-filing to collections improvement programs to guardianship issues. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities to address those challenges.

Extract: Very early in your career with the OCA, you stated several goals you wanted to help the OCA pursue, including expanding electronic filing. The first courts are scheduled to rollout mandatory e-filing on January 1, 2014. How are counties doing with their preparation? Do you think it will become more difficult as the smaller counties rollout in the coming years?

Slayton: Expanding e-filing in the state has begun in earnest and counties are responding well. Each implementation involves unique challenges, from converting to an electronic court file to ensuring that there is appropriate bandwidth to handle the e-filing load. However, very capable individuals are working in each county to ensure a smooth rollout. The smaller counties in Texas, which are the majority, will likely face unique challenges, including access to appropriate internet bandwidth and access to funding to cover the costs of new technology. However, OCA is working with those counties to prepare for the future and to ensure there is a funding source to recover their costs. E-filing in the large counties is important due to the volume, but e-filing in small counties is equally important due to access to those courts by lawyers and litigants. I am very excited about the rollout of e-filing across the state.

Extract: Currently courts redact upon request only, do you see that changing as courts begin to make documents more widely available online?

Slayton: Obviously, it is key for courts to protect the sensitive data in court documents. As more documents become available online, it is important for courts to keep this in mind. There are rules under consideration that would address redaction of sensitive data, perhaps at the attorney level rather than the clerk or court level.

Extract: You officially became NACM President over the summer. What accomplishments stand out as NACM makes progress toward the its six National Agenda priorities?

• Emphasizing Caseflow Management Improvements;
• Sustaining Excellence in Difficult Budget Times;
• Enhancing Public Perceptions of the Courts and Increasing Community Collaboration;
• Promoting Improved Court Leadership and Governance;
• Preparing For and Responding to Trends;
• Supporting Professional Court Management Education

Slayton: Each of the National Agenda priorities is key to ensuring that the courts and the profession are ready to face the challenges that undoubtedly come every day. NACM has worked hard in the past few years to ensure that everything that we do is grounded in the National Agenda. From education, publications and committee work, our goal is to ensure that court professionals have what they need when they are faced with one of these issues. I’m very excited about the work that has been done in all of these areas and am excited about where we go from here. NACM will be reviewing the National Agenda this year in the hopes of updating it for the next five year period.

Extract: How is NACM reaching out to embrace and mentor young court administration professionals?

Slayton: The profession of court administration began in earnest in the early 1970s. As we approach the fifty year mark of the profession, it is important to ensure that we are raising up a new crop of well-trained court leaders. While some of the pioneers of the profession are still engaged, many are moving on to enjoy retirement. In order to address this issue, NACM created the Early Career Professionals (ECP) group a few years ago. The intent of the ECP project is to engage individuals who are new to the court profession or are under 40 years of age. By tailoring mentoring, networking and education to this group of individuals, we hope to engage them in the association and profession.

Extract: “Embracing the Courts of the Future” is the theme for NACM’s 2014 conferences. What trends do court administrators need to be preparing for and responding to.

Slayton: I think that court administrators need to accept the fact that things will never go back to the way they used to be. Budgets will remain depressed and staffing levels will be unlikely to rebound. It is important that court administrators lead courts to become more efficient and make better use of technology to assist our staff and judges. I believe that a unique challenge to the courts in the next few years will be the technology divide – with most younger employees demanding more and more technology and freedom to use it and some seasoned employees resisting technology altogether. This divide will occur not only internally, but from our external customers. Meeting this demand will require a unique effort.

Extract: Tell us a couple things you love most about Texas.

Slayton: I am a born and raised Texan, with my family roots in Texas extending back almost 200 years. I love the fact that Texans are so proud of our state. Taking pride in the state (while offensive to some non-Texans) means that Texans are quick to work to improve the systems that operate within it. I love the fact that the courts across Texas exercise such creativity when solving problems and are quick to help each other out when an issue arises. Lastly, I love that we can travel across Texas and experience virtually every climate that exists in the rest of the United States.

About the Author: Greg Gies

For 20 years in the software industry, Greg Gies has been helping businesses, government agencies and healthcare organizations achieve their goals and carry out their missions by making better use of information and automating business processes. Greg has held positions in sales, product management and marketing and holds an MBA from Babson College.