Shut down of Macomb court web site for criminal records creates burden

The shut down of online access to Macomb County Circuit Court criminal-case records to help comply with the Clean Slate law has created a burden on the Clerk’s Office court section and users of the web site.

County Clerk Anthony Forlini said Friday the court section of his office has been inundated since last April with in-person requests for records, including someone last week who requested 40,000 names to be checked. The law that went into effect April 11 automatically shields certain convictions from public access.

“Our staff is working crazy over this,” he said. “This has been an ongoing problem for us.”

The court workers are getting burned out, he said. A half dozen employees are working six to eight hours of overtime a day total to comply with requests. That work is on top of their regular duties, he said.

“I don’t have a solution,” he said. “The Clerk’s Office has stepped up and knocked it out of the park. For them to put out 20,000 records since then is a pretty astonishing number.”

For the 40,000-name request, he said they will try.

Court-section employees are fielding in-person requests for the records at the court-section offices in the county courthouse on Main Street in Mount Clemens because the public has been unable to access criminal-case records on the court’s web site.

“We ran into issues with automating the process with the court’s case management system,” circuit court Administrator Julie Bovenschen said in an email. “Unfortunately, it has become mostly a manual process due to issues with the information in the case management system.  The Circuit Court Case Management Division is working on the removal process in the necessary cases.”

Forlini called the problem in Macomb a “glitch” in the case-management software provided by a vendor.

A message tells visitors to the Macomb County Circuit Court web site that criminal case records are unavailable.MACOMB DAILY IMAGE
A message tells visitors to the Macomb County Circuit Court web site that criminal case records are unavailable.MACOMB DAILY IMAGE

Forlini said he is frustrated because he’s been told several times the online access will be restored “in a couple of weeks” but that it keeps getting pushed back.

While also fulfilling record requests, the Clerk’s Office’s court-section workers are having to manually update the approximately 12,000 records that must be removed from the public record, Bovenschen said.

Every court in Michigan is required to remove the appropriate records under the new law. The state has allocated extra funds to pay for overtime costs associated with the update. The cap for Macomb Circuit is about $30,000, according to state court records. Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac will receive up to about $29,000 and Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit will receive up to about $66,000.  District courts are also receiving funds: 37th District Court in Warren and Center Line has the highest cap at about $71,000 and 42-I District Court in Romeo has the lowest cap at about $12,000.

The caps were “calculated using a universal base amount plus a percentage of total criminal case filings in each court, up to a maximum allocation cap,” said state Court Administrator Thomas Boyd in a May 12 memo to officials in all courts in Michigan.

Forlini’s office is charging $2 per page for a case’s “register of actions” that he said does not fully offset the amount of work involved.

Macomb is the only one of the three circuit courts in the tri-county that had to shut down access to all of the criminal case records to perform the removals; criminal case records in Oakland and Wayne counties remain available during the process. District courts in Macomb County and elsewhere also have not had to deny online access.

“We are fortunate we did not have to experience that (shutting down),” said Oakland Circuit Court Administrator Richard Lynch.

In Grand Rapids, the Kent Court Circuit Court and 61st District Court had to block online access in order to comply, according to a late-June report on WOOD-TV.

The Macomb County courthouse on Main Street in Mount Clemens.MACOMB DAILY PHOTO
The Macomb County courthouse on Main Street in Mount Clemens.MACOMB DAILY PHOTO

John Nevin, spokesman for the State Court Administrative Office and Supreme Court, said in an email: “We are completely confident that Macomb courts are working as hard as they can to process requests and to get online public access completely restored. Implementing Clean Slate has been a huge challenge to every court statewide, and that challenge has been magnified by different computer systems. That’s why we are grateful for the support of the governor and legislature for a single, unified, statewide case management system.”

Frequent users of the court’s web site include prosecuting and defense attorneys, others involved in the county justice system and companies performing criminal-background checks on employees or potential employees. Forlini said many “firms” are asking for records but he doesn’t know the reason.

Several attorneys in recent weeks have complained about the situation. Criminal defense attorneys track their clients’ cases on the system and attorneys who are court appointed use it to submit bills for reimbursement.

The county Public Defender’s Office was granted an alternate access to the records because that office not only provides legal representation to a portion of indigent clients, it also processes reimbursement from the hundreds of court-appointed attorneys who are not with the office.

Macomb Circuit’s web site has a note at the top saying “access to criminal cases will not be available until the Court is able to update the records that are automatically set aside by the Michigan State Police.”

The note suggests using ICHAT, the Internet Criminal History Access Tool, which charges a $10 fee.

There is hope for a return to free access on the court web site soon.

“We are approximately 2 weeks away from turning on public access,” Bovenschen said Friday.

The new law expanded on a prior law to make expungement easier by providing them automatically for certain crimes. Those include:

-Any misdemeanor punishable by less than 92 days in jail, with no time requirement or limit on number.

-Misdemeanors punishable by 93 days or more in jail seven years after the sentencing date and if the person has no other pending criminal charges. The limit for automatic expungement is four.

-Up to two felonies with maximum a maximum penalty of under 10 years in prison, 10 years after the sentencing date and completion of the sentence, whichever is later. The subject also can have no pending charges.

Not eligible are assaultive crimes, serious misdemeanors, “crimes of dishonest, such as forgery and counterfeiting, crimes that involve a minor, a vulnerable adult, injury or serious impairment, death or human trafficking.

Assaultive crimes are defined as offenses such as assault, homicide, manslaughter, assaults against pregnant women, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, terrorism and violations involving bombs and explosives.

Also ineligible are traffic offenses that cause injury or death as well as operating while intoxicated and commercial driver’s license violations.

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