When Houston County prosecutors walk into a courtroom, they're not carting a load of case files.
That's because the District Attorney's office is paperless.
"We no longer have paper files," District Attorney Kelly Burke said. "When you see us walk in the courtroom, we're not carrying files. We're carrying a computer."
The laptop computers link directly to the office's case management system dubbed "LawDog."
All case documents — police incident reports, attorney motions, judge's orders, video surveillance, police interviews and photographs — are all scanned or uploaded to the database, Burke said.
The database is accessible to prosecutors, defense attorneys, parole and probation officers, the prosecutor said.
Any information that is available during the discovery is accessible, he said.
All cases are not open to everyone but limited to attorneys on record as representing a defendant as well as his or her parole or probation officers, if applicable, Burke said.
Since the database was added April 1 of last year, nearly half-a-million pages of information has been scanned, and that's an estimated savings of about $15,000 in paper costs alone, the prosecutor estimated.
Burke said there's also intrinsic savings in the workload of office staff, who no longer have to copy documents and store, locate and retrieve shared paper files.
"The concept for it came from striving to be more efficient with limited resources," he said.
Documents are scanned as they come into the DA's office and then shredded, the prosecutor said.
The system automatically places a time and date stamp on the document that cannot be changed, he said.
The system also has two off-site backups in place, he said.
Burke said hopes to add in February access for police officers, limited to cases assigned.
The case management system is setup for Superior Court cases only.
The idea for the system came from a workshop at the National Advocacy Center at the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia, where Burke and two of his prosecutors were also teaching workshops. Jeffrey L. Sauter, a prosecuting attorney in Eaton County, Mich., gave one on his paperless case management system. Burke said he believes his office is the only district attorney's office in Georgia to have such a system.
The Macon Judicial Circuit, which includes Bibb, Peach and Crawford counties, does not have a paperless case management system, District Attorney Howard Simms said. He said he believes Burke's office has the only paperless system among district attorneys in Georgia.
Simms said his office will likely join other district attorneys' offices with an online case management system being set up through the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. But this system would only be viewable by prosecuting attorneys, he said.
Carl A. Veline Jr., a Warner Robins criminal defense attorney, said that LawDog case management system "by and large is an asset to both sides of the fence — prosecution and defense."
Veline said he can download a witness statement to a portable computer and take it to the jail to review it with a client, for example. Before, he'd take a handwritten statement with him, wait for the client to read it and then they'd talk about it. Now, he and his client can view the actual witness statement together.
"I think it's the wave of the future," Veline said.