- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The head of South Carolina’s judicial system told a Senate panel Wednesday that she needs more money to safeguard digital information for courts around the state.

Appearing before a Senate Finance subcommittee, Chief Justice Jean Toal said that it would take about $5.5 million to set up a site at Clemson University that could serve as a backup for digital court records now stored in Columbia. In addition, Toal said that she would also need about $500,000 to train staff on data security measures and about $1.5 million to run the backup system per year.

“You’ve got to have a backup for that,” Toal said. “As filings continue, and as court business continues during a disaster that may hit Columbia, this data can be continuing to be used, not just viewed.”

Technological upgrades and improvements have been among Toal’s top priorities during her more than a decade as chief. Testifying before lawmakers last year, Toal told legislators that she wanted to see long-term projects - like an electronic court document filing system - through to fruition.

The $67.7 million in judicial department funding approved by the House on Wednesday doesn’t include the millions in data security money. But Toal said that the state’s courts would be severely hampered if the digital information were wiped out and had not been backed up.

“It could cripple the court’s ability to run the court system, if something happened to that system,” Toal said. “Recurring funds of this type are going to be a part of everybody’s budget as you move toward electronic systems.”

Toal is also asking for $850,000 for security upgrades at the buildings that house the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. She has also asked for the money to fund new circuit court and family court judges, as well as staff attorneys for both appellate courts, positions that she said would help alleviate overloaded dockets around the state.

Another thing that could streamline the state’s courts, Toal said, would be a digital court reporting system. There are many vacant court reporter jobs throughout the state, Toal said, but not enough people are training for the jobs in the state’s technical schools.

“I do think it makes a lot of sense for us to look at using digital recording systems,” Toal said, noting that she has already piloted the idea in Dorchester County. “We would like to take it into 15 courtrooms in South Carolina.”


Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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