Technology benefits court

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County Court employees showcased on Tuesday how they are using technology to keep up with growing caseloads, increase efficiency and save money during the annual State of the Court assembly.

More than 120 Blair County Court workers gathered in the commissioners’ meeting room of the Courthouse for the assembly, which is an effort to educate all court workers about the tasks each office performs.

Since Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva initiated the assemblies seven years ago, the court workers have focused on issues like courthouse safety and on juveniles and adults who were enrolled in court-related treatment programs.

Not only have caseloads been growing, but the system itself has become more complex as new methods are implemented to deal with those in the system.

For example, Juvenile Probation officers Molly Wink and Jeannette Aungst talked about the ankle monitors used on juvenile offenders that allow them to keep juveniles in their homes rather than placing them in group facilities or institutions.

The child has a “zone” in which he is expected to stay, and the ankle monitor allows juvenile authorities to track him 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If the teen attempts to cut off the anklet, authorities are immediately notified and a siren sounds.

The director of Blair County’s Custody Office, Chris McClellan, said that Facebook and Twitter are tapped to provide evidence that attorneys and custody officials use in many ongoing custody battles.

McClellan said that people think that tweets and Facebook posts are private communications, but in reality people use the social media to vent their anger and make comments that are seen by thousands.

In one case, a mother maintained that she was not criticizing her child’s father, but the father’s attorney brought in Facebook comments she had made that disparaged him repeatedly.

Text messages were used to show a mother was relaying critical remarks about a father to their children, which helped the father maintain primary custody of his children, McClellan said.

Ed Garlena and Cory Seymour, who work in the Blair County Adult Parole and Probation Office, said the office is preparing to tie in parole and probation records with those in the District Attorney’s Office and the prison to enable those facilities to track and maintain contact with parolees.

Judge Timothy M. Sullivan, Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise and Assistant Public Defender Joe Hartye put on a display of how video conferencing is being used to hold court hearings.

Tom Shea, the director of the Adult Parole and Probation Office, sat in another office of the courthouse, portraying an inmate, while a short sentencing hearing was held in the assembly room via video conference.

Cathy Feather, Tracy Farabaugh and Connie Miller, administrative assistants, showed how they use computer programs to improve the efficiency of the judges’ office, while Amy Ruckinger, a court reporter, demonstrated digital court reporting used to quickly prepare court transcripts.

The director of the county’s Fines and Costs Office, Sally Adams, talked about an E-Pay system that allows individuals to pay their fines and costs online.

The system has been in place less than two years, and Adams said, more than $620,000 have been paid through E-Pay.

Judge Daniel Milliron said the assembly is “a way to celebrate the work we do to serve justice.”

It has become tradition at the assembly to honor a court employee who is a leader in the system.

This year’s “Raising the Bar Award” went to Denise Podrasky of Altoona, an adult parole officer aide who spends her time helping to make sure things go smoothly each day in the Adult Parole and Probation Office.

Podrasky performs her job at a high level even during stressful times, said Kopriva.

The mother of two and grandmother of three said she has worked for the county for five years. While she said she has had many jobs, she said of her current one, “This is the best.”

Podrasky said said she was “blown away” when her name was announced for the award.

Keith R. Pritts of the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement and Training Institute, keynoted the technology discussion by demonstrating a computer program used to train employees of the Blair County Domestic Relations Office, which collects millions of dollars in child support annually.

“Using technology is really starting to become a big deal,” he said of the Pennsylvania courts.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.