Alamance First-of-its Kind Court Program Wins National Honor

By Michael D. Abernethy, Times News | Published: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 7:06 PM.

An electronic system developed in Alamance County to make it easier for victims of domestic abuse to obtain court-ordered protection is among the winners of a national competition for government technology.

The Alamance County Electronic Protective Order System is one of 10 winners of the 2014 GCN Awards for outstanding information technology achievement in government. This year’s other winners include the U.S. Air Force, the New York City Department of Transportation and the U.S. Navy’s space and warfare command system.

The awards recognize impact to the public and government efficiency. They are sponsored each year by GCN — an abbreviation of government computer news — a magazine detailing advances in government technology solutions. More than 150 nominations were reviewed by an independent panel of eight judges this year.

ALAMANCE COUNTY’S program streamlines the process for domestic abuse victims to obtain protective orders from District Court judges. It’s the only program of its kind in the state and is believed to be the first full-service protective order system in the nation.

It requires victims to make only one stop, at Burlington’s Family Justice Center, where they are sworn in and speak with a District Court judge over a web-based camera. The judge completes the protective orders online during that hearing and sends victims to the Alamance County Clerk of Courts Office, where the orders are printed and filed. The clerk’s office then electronically submits the orders to the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office for service.

The old method required victims to travel among all those offices to deliver paperwork, and it took hours to complete. It was so cumbersome that victims frequently gave up without obtaining the protective orders, and it was so confusing that the orders sometimes weren’t filed correctly or weren’t served on abusers.

Paul McCloskey, GCN’s editor in chief, said Alamance County’s project is an example of “outstanding public benefit” and “simple, elegant solutions” that should be a model for other government agencies.

“It was an example of the perfect coming-together … of a group of people who made sure this system worked and that all the pieces fit properly, and that victims of abuse could in fact communicate with the justice system,” McCloskey said. “On all three of those levels, everything clicked.”

ALAMANCE COUNTY’S team worked with the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts to create and fund the system. It took months to develop and went live in August 2013.

Some of those involved in creating the system were Cindy Brady, Family Justice Center executive director; Jim Roberson, Alamance County Chief District Court judge; Lynn Rousseau, Family Abuse Services of Alamance County director; Greg Paravis, Alamance County’s PC systems manager; Donna Harris, with the Clerk of Court’s Office; Sherrie O’Shields of the Sheriff’s Office; and Jill Davis, who heads arbitration and other District Court matters.

“I think we almost take it for granted now because we worked so hard on it for all this time,” Brady said. “It’s a reminder of what can happen when people play well together.”

Frank Merricks, director of the county’s Management Information Systems Department, nominated the project. A longtime GCN reader, he believed the project was worthy of recognition, being the first of its kind and the first county project in his 25 years of employment to meet the awards criteria.

This is the 27th year of the GCN Awards. The winners will be recognized during a ceremony in October in Vienna, Va.

The other winners are:

■ Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command;

■ FEMA Risk Analysis Division;

■ Internal Revenue Service;

■ Office of the CIO, New York City Department of Transportation;

■ USAF Air Mobility Command;

■ Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services;

■ NIST Computer Security & Intelligent Systems;

■ Navy Sea Systems Command; and

■ California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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