LOGAN — It’s not every day that Hocking County receives a visit from the Ohio State Supreme Court; however, on Thursday, Justice Judith L. French not only visited, she also presented a check to Hocking County Common Pleas Court.
Justice French presented a check in the amount of $2,310.83 to Hocking County Magistrate Wenda Sheard and IT Director Mark Stout to pay for a new bench computer and a courtroom audio-visual system.
The presentation in Logan was the second of the day for Justice French as part of the Technology and Civil Justice grants awarded in Southeast Ohio. The grants are designed for courts to promote innovations, modernization, efficiency, and advance civil justice initiatives for the underserved.
The Supreme Court awarded a total of $2.9 million in technology grants to more than two-dozen counties to cover 47 projects.
Magistrate Sheard, the Court and the Hocking County Commissioners are very appreciative of the grant since some of the equipment in her courtroom has been used way beyond its life expectancy. The computer currently used does not include Word processing software. The computer’s sole purpose is to record proceedings; however, it’s an old monitor that obstructs the Magistrate’s view of the courtroom.
Also, there is no equipment to show photos, documents, or videos in the courtroom. With the help of the grant, public access to the justice system will be enhanced by sound added to presentations by the ability of the Magistrate to type and print temporary orders from the bench, by the ability of parties to see exhibits together in full color and by the replacement of the 2012 system for recording hearings.
“We needed some of our equipment upgraded,” the Magistrate told The Logan Daily News. “We also knew that it would be more official to have a copy of Microsoft Word and a printer right at the bench so we could do orders while people are watching. To make it even better we wanted a big screen to put on the wall so the people can actually see the wording of their undergoing negotiations.
“Many of the cases in the courtroom are solved by agreement so it’s real important to have that ability to do things right now rather than make people wait to get their paperwork and see the wording of their agreement of the temporary orders,” she added.
The new equipment will make the courtroom more efficient when it comes to getting the paperwork to the person in the courtroom, according to Magistrate Sheard.
For the Magistrate and the Court, receiving this grant means bringing the courtroom into the “20th Century” as Hocking County Commissioners Gary Waugh and Jeff Dickerson stated during the presentation (not the 21st Century because there are still things to be accomplished in order to bring the court current with the times).
The court first found out about the grant through the Supreme Court. Magistrate Sheard said the Supreme Court is great about notifying courts throughout Ohio when there is an opportunity to apply for grant funding.
“It came across our email and we decided we would apply for it,” she said. “The grant will allow us the technology we need to create orders in a more timely and more accurate fashion.”
Justice French talked about the grant and stated this is the fifth year for the program.
“In the past five years, the Supreme Court has awarded more than $14 million in technology grants to upgrade their courtroom systems,” Justice French commented.
She told The Logan Daily News, some of the projects have included case management upgrades, public online access to records, systems to file and pay fees, hardware upgrades, security equipment, as well as many others.
“What I think is such a great thing about the grants, it is not the Ohio Supreme Court saying here’s what we want you to do and here’s the money to do it. It’s the local communities, it’s the courts, the judges, the magistrates, the IT guys saying this is what we need, this is how much it’s going to cost, and then we award the money to do that,” she continued.
Thursday, Justice French also presented a check to Athens County Common Pleas, Probate and Juvenile Judge Robert W. Stewart in the amount of $163,657.80 for a case management system and a website to provide public access to documents.
While in Athens, she also presented a check for $34,749.70 to Athens County Municipal Court Judge Todd Grace to add a judicial tools module to increase case management and consistency.
The final checks presented Thursday went to Fairfield County, where she presented a check to Common Pleas Judge Richard Berens in the amount of $18,276 to add an e-Access module for remote access to case files.
She also awarded $12,353 to Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas Magistrate and Court Administrator Jillian Boone.
“With technology changing almost daily, we’re always trying to find ways of updating our equipment just to keep up with the times,” stated Commissioner Waugh. “We can always use the money to help update our equipment. And we are so appreciative of this opportunity through the Ohio Supreme Court.”
Those working on the grant included the Magistrate, Hocking County Common Pleas Judge John Wallace, IT Director Mark Stout and Common Pleas Administrative Assistant Darla Matheny.
Stout is hoping to receive and have the equipment up and running by the end of the May.