Debbie Comery, Chief Deputy Clerk at Rocky River Municipal Court in Rocky River, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, said she considers herself and her court to be forward thinkers when it comes to using technology to improve efficiency at the court. So when her Pitney Bowes sales representative approached her about participating in a new United States Postal Service program to make return receipts electronic, she said she jumped at the chance.
"We have somewhat of a reputation for being avant-garde, technologywise," Comery said. "When the discussion came up with one of the Pitney Bowes sales reps regarding the possibility of participating in the [e-Return Receipt] pilot program, we were very excited about it because we enjoy trying new technology and using it to our advantage for time savings, or to find better ways, in our opinion, to [maintain] records."
And keeping good records, according to Comery, is the purpose of her office at the court-house.
Rocky River Municipal Court is a first-level court system, Comery explained, meaning that the court handles hearings on such issues as traffic tickets up to misdemeanors. The clerks office is responsible for maintaining the court records, and part of that job includes sending out notices to individuals that a complaint has been filed against them and they have been summoned to appear in court.
By law, these notices must be sent by certified U.S. mail with return receipt requested, which involves the recipient signing the Postal Services green return receipt card—legal proof that the defendant in a case has received the notice of a hearing. Prior to implementing the e-Return Receipt system, Comery said that when a Postal Service return receipt card came back to the courthouse, it was manually filed with the appropriate case. Each week, Rocky River sends out approximately 175 notices requiring a return receipt.
"When you file a complaint, especially civil or small claims, that complaint needs to be served upon the defendant," Comery said. "Thereby, there needs to be proof of service. You can do personal service and have a bailiff hand it to the individual. The other type used here for some criminal complaints and all of our civil complaints is the certified return receipt requested."
Comery said that once that return receipt is signed and returned, the court views that complaint as having been duly served, and the case can go forward in the judicial process.
When Pitney Bowes approached Comery about moving to an electronic return receipt system in the fall of 2004, she said she was not having any real problems with the existing mail system, over and above any normal mail glitches.
"We didnt have a problem that initiated this. Certainly the prior paper certified green card process was as functional as one could hope, given what it is, and there are pieces of mail that get lost in the mail," Comery said.
But what caught her attention was when Pitney Bowes sales representative Bud Hosey described a new product that Pitney Bowes had created—in conjunction with the USPS e-Return Receipt system—that would move the process online and save users money. Comery said she wanted to hear more.
According to Jeffrey Platt, director of marketing at Pitney Bowes, Pitney Bowes began working with the USPS shortly after they introduced the electronic return receipt product in September 2004.
The two worked together to create a product line of electronic postage meters that would facilitate the electronic return receipt system.
Under the old system, Comery said that a court clerk entered case information into the CourtView case management system from Maximus, of North Canton, Ohio (which provides a way to track case information). This included a case number, recipient address and any other pertinent information about the plaintiff and the defendant.
This information was then printed on special certified mailer envelopes using one of several dot-matrix printers. The mailers cost approximately $1 each. The green return receipt card and postage were applied manually.
When a card was returned in the mail to the court, it was filed by hand in a paper case file, and a note was made in the case management system. Each return receipt card cost $1.85, and there was no way to track the whereabouts of a card until it was actually returned to the court.