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Paper's on its way out at county office

Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts and his team of assistant prosecutors are trying to go paperless — or as paperless as possible — and the result could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings to taxpayers, Roberts says.

The county attorney's office has embarked on a computer network and electronic databank project that is expected to cut back greatly on the use of paper, not to mention toner and office machinery, he says.

Instead of toting voluminous documents through courthouse halls each day, the 16 or so prosecutors and four victim advocates in the county attorney's office are carrying laptop computers. For an office that handles 55,000 criminal cases a year, the savings will be substantial, Roberts says.

The laptops are only one part of the new system. The county attorney's office has taken a computer program used by law firms that handle civil cases and adapted it to fit the needs of a government prosecutor's office.

With permission from the state Administrative Office of the Courts, Roberts' office has had courtrooms and other rooms in the Fayette District Court and Fayette Circuit Court buildings wired, along with the county attorney's office on Vine Street.

An employee of the county attorney's office spends the bulk of her workdays gathering information from court files and scanning it into the new system in an area of the district court clerk's office that has been equipped for that purpose.

Now, an assistant Fayette County attorney handling criminal cases in a courtroom can look up a defendant's criminal history with a few keystrokes or share information via laptop with colleagues.

They no longer will have to use a ream of paper for a day's worth of arraignments or carry 20 to 25 files, each consisting of several sheets of paper, to preliminary hearings.

The county attorney's office is still in the process of adding juvenile criminal information into the new system. The office also is trying to adjust the system so prosecutors and other employees may access it from home.

The project, which began about a year ago, will cost about $56,000. About $50,000 is from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, the remainder from Roberts' office.

"This has been what I consider to be a long process. We had to do an awful lot of things to make this work," said Assistant County Attorney Lee Turpin, who heads up the project. "But everybody has been very cooperative and very helpful because they all see this as the wave of the future."

"It's a great project," said Bill Patrick, executive director of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association. "I hope and I think some of the other county attorneys hope it could be implemented statewide."

This is a good time to cut back on the use of paper, both to save on costs and be more environmentally friendly, Patrick said.

Roberts said he hopes his office also can go paperless with child-support cases. But he'll have to get permission from state government and adjust the new computer system to do that. The county attorney's office has about 17,000 child support cases on file, he said.

For now, the new "paperless" system is helping the county attorney's office do its job more efficiently, he said.

"It's a work in progress," Turpin said of the new system. "We are not at the point yet where we walk in (court) with no paperwork at all because we are still in transition. But it is getting less every day."