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Court system makes Y2K fixes Iowa is spending more than $335,000 on repairs.

By LYNN HICKS Register Business Writer 05/17/1999 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Iowa spent $15.5 million and most of the "90s computerizing the state's court files.

Now it needs more time and money to keep the wheels of justice turning Jan. 1.

The state's judicial branch is spending more than $335,000 this year to avoid the Year 2000 glitch, just two years after the state hooked the last counties to the Iowa Court Information System.

When programmers designed the system, they saved space by using only the last two digits of years. The programmers knew that wouldn't work when 2000 arrived, but court clerks and others wanted to get as much information on the computer screen as possible, said Larry Murphy, director of court information systems.

Programmers contracted by the state hope to rebuild the program in each county by late June. The cost of turning the two-digit numbers into four digits: $275,000, not including staff time. The judicial branch is also spending $60,000 to $70,000 to bring its Unix operating system into compliance, Murphy said.

"I know it's a lot of money, but the executive branch agencies have spent considerably more for that branch of government," Murphy said.

The Legislature has allocated about $20 million to fix and test state computers so they"ll keep working properly.

Lawmakers who oversee the judiciary system's budget said they didn't know about the Y2K changes, but spent part of the session discussing other flaws they saw in the court computer system.

Sen. Gene Maddox, R-Clive, and Sen. Robert Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said the system isn't compatible with the computers of other agencies, such as those in the Department of Corrections. As a result, lawmakers and others studying sentencing reform have difficulty tracking what happens to defendants.

"I don't mind spending money to make it work, but I prefer spending money to make all these systems work together," Maddox said. "We're probably wasting money somewhere."

The Iowa Court Information System helps clerks track dockets, go after unpaid fines and court costs, make sure drunken drivers and domestic abusers attend classes ordered by judges, and handle other mountains of information more quickly and accurately.

The public has access to the system through terminals in each courthouse.

Begun in 1987, the system gradually spread to all corners of the state as lawmakers made money available. In 1996 and "97, the final 44 counties were added.

Court officials are preparing for other Y2K failures outside their control. By September, a committee plans to write a contingency plan assuming that electricity or communications would be shut down for five days. The plan will be used for any natural disaster, Murphy said.

Officials are also working with county supervisors, who are responsible for courthouses, to get backup generators.

Court administrators are considering postponing all jury trials for the first week of 2000, said Elizabeth Baldwin, administrator for the 5th Judicial District, which covers 16 counties in central and southern Iowa. The counties' computerized system for picking jurors is prepared for Y2K, she said, but trials might be delayed for jurors' convenience.

Not all court functions can cease. For example, judges must hear domestic abuse petitions within 24 hours and approve search warrants at any time. Also, all defendants must make an initial appearance 24 hours after arrest.

-- y2k dave (, May 18, 1999


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-- y2k dave (, May 18, 1999.

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