In the wake of a massive cyberattack on the Department of Revenue, South Carolina's top judge assured lawmakers Wednesday that the state's court system was secure from hackers.
"Technology and its use in changing the way we do business in the court system in South Carolina has been my hallmark," Chief Justice Jean Toal told a joint session of the state Legislature in her annual address. "Be assured and aware that cybersecurity for the courts system has been an integral part of our design."
At Toal's request, the state Legislature last year allocated funding for a system through which attorneys can file court documents electronically, overriding a veto from Gov. Nikki Haley. To keep that in-house system safe, Toal said she employs a team that focuses solely on data security and safeguarding the servers that host information for courts around the state.
Toal has pushed for better technology throughout her 13 years as chief justice. As her next step, Toal said she wanted to make appellate court records that are now managed internally through an automated system available to the public online. Toal said the e-filing system would be similar to a federal system already in place although, unlike that model, she'd make South Carolina's version free.
"This will be for everyone in South Carolina," she said. "We've got to pay better attention to public access to information."
Toal, a former lawmaker, also thanked legislators for their decision last year to fund nine new judges to slog away at the state's backlogged court dockets. In January, lawmakers elected six new Family Court judges and also filled three new Circuit Court positions.
Toal also referenced a recent high court decision that removed docket control from the state's prosecutors, saying the law that gave solicitors that power was unconstitutional. To hash out a suitable way to handle court scheduling, Toal said she would put together a study committee and appoint two former prosecutors currently serving as legislators.
"This isn't a judge-run situation," Toal said. "No judge can run these dockets. It's a joint cooperative partnership. ... I believe we can make progress without having it be a me-against-you or an us-against-them situation."
South Carolina is currently the only state where prosecutorial control has been set in statute, but two other states also involve prosecutors in docket management, according to the National Center for State Courts. In North Carolina, district attorneys schedule criminal cases, but the court system has ultimate authority over trial calendars. Maryland prosecutors set trial dates, but a county's chief judge can make changes.
Toal's 10-year term on the high court expires next year.
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