Phila. Reforms Court Operations, May Put Criminal Cases Online


Even in a city not known as a hotbed of efficiency, the Philadelphia court system’s Clerk of Quarter Sessions office was an unusually hidebound and hapless bureaucratic mess, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Paperwork problems kept prisoners behind bars past their release dates – or let them free too early. Its staff was at war, with court clerks at odds with court criers. It lost track of $1 billion in forfeited bail owed the city, even as it sat on millions of dollars that it should have distributed.

Two years ago, after the Inquirer reported the uncollected $1 billion and said the office was unable to track tens of thousands of fugitives who owed money, the city retired the elected clerk and handed all duties over to the regular court administration. Now, a new team has put the court’s crucial record-keeping and bookkeeping operation on a sound footing. It has gone after back bail, gotten a grip on $54 million languishing in a murky office bank account, and will launch a precedent-setting plan to go digital with all criminal court filings. That plan could lead to opening all criminal court cases to public inspection at the click of a computer mouse.

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