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Jacksonville Public Defender’s Office Better Serves Clients With Document Imaging and Mobile Access

A new mobile solution has saved money and decreased paperwork for the Jacksonville, Fla., Public Defender’s Office, including (from left) Razan Farmand, Joe Frasier, Shannon Schott and Matt Shirk. Photography by Jonpaul Douglass


Customer: Jacksonville Public Defender’s Office
Headquarters: Jacksonville, Fla.
Business: Provides court-appointed representation to citizens involved in legal cases
Challenge: Too much paper, not enough access to information
Solution: Used Real Vision Software’s Real Vision Imaging software to digitize case-file documents and created a Web application to give attorneys mobile access
Hardware: IBM Power Systems server running IBM
Software: Real Vision Software’s Real Vision Imaging software, IBM DB2 for i

It’s almost a movie cliché: An overworked public defender pulling a dolly of bungeed case files behind her, off to a long day at the courthouse. But there’s more truth to this than even moviemakers let on, with some attorneys juggling dozens of cases at a time, each requiring hundreds of supporting documents, photos, handwritten notes and other bits of relevant information.

Until recently, this was the situation at the Jacksonville Public Defender’s Office in Florida, says Shannon Schott, a Jacksonville assistant public defender. “One case might have six filing cabinets’ worth of paper, and much of that was shared between different agencies,” she says. “For example, it might also be documented in the state attorney’s office and the clerk’s office, so there would be three copies of everything floating around—that’s how much paper was being used in these cases.”

Thankfully, the elected public defender, Matt Shirk, had enough technological insight to know a solution to this problem must exist. Working with IT Director Joe Frasier, he encouraged the organization to embark on a quest to go paperless, including in the courtroom.

“I told Joe, ‘I think we need to change how we deal with case files,’ ” Shirk recalls. “So he and I sat down and went over some ideas to help us head in that direction. One of the things we discussed was how our lawyers could go to court without any files but instead with little computers. Joe’s a brilliant programmer and already had some solutions in mind, which eventually morphed into the system we’re now using.”

Using Real Vision Software’s Real Vision Imaging (RVI) solution as the linchpin, attorneys with the public defender’s office now have wireless, online access to everything related to the cases they’re working on, including both structured and unstructured data. And they can tap into it right in the courtroom, either using laptops or Apple iPads, depending on their preference—no cartons of files and dollies needed.


Paper Clips and Staples

The Jacksonville Public Defender’s Office is a busy place, with around 76 attorneys handling nearly 50,000 cases a year. Its clients include court-appointed citizens who are involved in criminal cases ranging from simple misdemeanors and traffic violations to complex felonies and homicides. It officially serves the 4th Judicial Circuit, which includes Florida’s Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, working out of three satellite offices and the organization’s main site in Jacksonville, which is in Duval County.

With so many cases in various stages of progress throughout the year, it’s no wonder the office had so much paper in circulation. “Fifty-thousand cases a year represents a lot of paper,” Frasier says. “And it all had to be custom ordered, with logos and headings and such. Then, on top of that, there were the folders, labels and stickers. Of course, we also had to store everything, and because you only have so much space on-site, we would have to pay for off-site storage. This was all very expensive.”

“We were looking at a one-year ROI—and we achieved that, in part by saving $200,000 on all of the paper, files, file labels, et cetera, we had been paying for before.”
—Joe Frasier, IT director, Jacksonville Public Defender’s Office

Because the Jacksonville Public Defender’s Office is a government-funded organization, these types of expenses can’t be easily overlooked as budgets shrink. This is partly what drove Shirk to look for cost-saving measures. The question, though, was how to achieve those savings, especially as related to physical case files.

The obvious solution was an imaging package of some sort, where paper-based documents could be scanned and stored in a digital format. It sounds simple, but several hurdles had to be overcome, including upfront and ongoing costs—and then justifying the initiative to the City of Jacksonville’s administrators.

“The business analysts aren’t going to take your word about how much money you might save by adopting a new system. They come in and they pull your invoices and purchase orders to determine how much you paid for everything, from the files and file labels to paper clips and staples, and then compare it to your proposed solution. It’s all very detailed, and it wasn’t something that just happened overnight,” Frasier says.

Which is why he was deliberate when it came to putting the solution together, using pieces that fit well together—and might not otherwise have been adopted in traditional IT environments—and were cost-effective. For example, he looked at several PC server-based solutions but found the licensing costs—which included client, workstation and scanning-station fees—too exorbitant. So while the upfront server expense may have appeared attractive, the ongoing costs, including those fees and server maintenance, were too high for the organization to justify.

That’s when Frasier proposed using an IBM Power Systems* server as its main computing platform, based on several potential benefits. For one, the organization had existing experience with the system, having used it for decades. Also, Frasier saw it as more reliable and scalable than competing systems. And the licensing costs for key application components were much less than on other platforms, including for the database software (in the form of DB2* for IBM i) and Real Vision’s RVI.

“This was really a no-brainer,” Frasier says. “After everything had been costed out, including for the server, the scanners, the software, storage, the laptops, the iPads, we were looking at a one-year ROI—and we achieved that, in part by saving $200,000 on all of the paper, files, file labels, et cetera, we had been paying for before.”

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.

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