Clerk of courts looks to modernize, cut costs
Before Yolanda Van de Krol was elected, she was slightly mystified about what, exactly, the clerk of courts did.
WEST CHESTER » Before Yolanda Van de Krol was elected Chester County Clerk of Courts in November 2017, she was like most of her neighbors — slightly mystified about what, exactly, the clerk of courts did.
Since taking office, Van De Krol has taken it upon herself and her office not only to inform the public about what the office functions are, but to make it easier for people who come in contact with the court system to navigate its various passages and byways.
Within the past several weeks, Van de Krol’s and her staff have upgraded the office’s website on www. chesco.org, making forms and steps available for people who need to access the system, and preparing the way for a switch to an internet based, e-filing system that she foresees saving not only time but money.
“We have a nice long list of things we want to do to make the office more efficient and to save tax dollars,” Van de Krol said in an interview last week. “There is a lot of misconception about what we do, so we want to go about helping people who have to use the system.”
For those who don’t know, the Clerk of Courts manages all paperwork for all criminal cases in the county Court of Common Pleas, unlike the county Prothonotary, which handles those filing associated with civil cases. If you are appealing a speeding ticket from a District Court hearing, want to erase the records of that pesky drunk driving charge you got seven years ago, or — heaven forbid — are facing felony charges, the Clerk of Courts is where all records come and go.
The clerk’s office also assesses fines, costs and restitution and collects the fees in conjunction with the Chester County Adult Probation and Parole Department. The office staffs all criminal, juvenile and dependency hearings held in Common Pleas Court to ensure that the paperwork is completed with efficiency and accuracy. Ask any prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge and they will tell you those from the clerks’ office play an indispensable role in the county criminal justice system.
Van de Krol wanted first to upgrade the office’s web site to make certain people had the chance to get their questions about how to do something like file a request for an expungement answered as quickly as possible. Not only would that help the public, she knew, but it would also free up the time her staff members spend on the phone explaining things.
“We make things very explicit on the web site,” she said of the changes that have been instituted. “Everyone’s questions should be answered if they go to the website.”
More than that change, Van deKrol decided to begin the process of allowing attorneys and parties to file paperwork electronically, as well as to look into the option of having “cloud” storage instead of shelves of paper case files.
“Right now, every person has to walk their papers into the office, no matter if they are a lawyer in West Chester or Philadelphia,” she said. Within a year, she said that parties would be able to scan their documents — motions, pleadings, appeals — and e-file them. The e-file system is maintained by the state’s Unified Judicial System, and would come with no fees attached for the county.
More than that, Van de Krol said a plan to begin cloud-based storage would also be paid for by the state, saving county taxpayers the $100,000 of so annual costs associated with paying for the storage.
“It should make everything a lot easier,” she said. “As long as you are proficient in technology, it will make thing a lot more efficient,” she said of the e-file option.
Van de Krol says she realizes that her desire for modernization and financial savings is “a work in progress,” but compliments her staff at making things easier to accomplish. “I think the staff is absolutely amazing. We have 28 people here and everybody has been working to make the system work really great.”
Yolanda Van de Krol took over as Chester County Clerk of Courts in January and is looking to modernize the office.