SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of court documents are housed on rows of shelves in at least one secure, plain-looking building in Sioux Falls.
And it’s not the Minnehaha County Courthouse.
The Minnehaha County Court system in the 2nd district circuit court stores hundreds of thousands of paper court documents older than 2012 in a facility provided by VRC. The county does store some paper documents but the bulk are at an off-site facility.
“There’s hundred and hundreds of feet of file shelving,” said Karl Thoennes, the court administrator for the 2nd Circuit.
State law requires the county to save court documents. In 2012 the court system converted to digital only storage. That left the paper documents for each year prior to 2012.
What’s in those stored records?
It could be documents about a family farm dispute from 1952. Maybe it’s a court document about a grandparents’ divorce in the 1930s. Or a notorious murder trial from the turn of the century.
The county court gets 12 to 20 requests each week for the stored paper court documents, Thoennes said.
An employee for the storage facility must search for the record. Thoennes said he’s seen some shelves so high in a facility that a ladder is needed to retrieve a document. Once the document is found, a courier delivers it to the courthouse. A courier must also return it to the storage facility.
Requests for adoption records are popular. Others want to learn about the farm, or a divorce. Some are interested in the outcome of a case they were involved in as a juvenile, Thoennes said.
“In general, the older the cases get, the less often they are referred to,” Thoennes said.
Still, the old records must be kept.
There are enough stored documents to fill two train rail car boxes or at least three semi-truck trailers. Those rail car boxes need to hold 5,000 cubic feet while the semi trailers need to hold about 3,000 cubic feet of material.
Other counties may have court document storage issues, “because of our size, we’re the largest…no other county comes close,” Thoennes said.
Thoennes updated the Minnehaha County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday about the costs of storing the paper court documents and the possible future options for the paper.
On Wednesday, Thoennes said any option will cost money. Based on today’s costs and the amount of court documents, it could cost as much as $2 million to convert all the paper documents to digital copies, if the county did the entire project in one year, he said.
The $2 million is based on the amount of records and the cost to convert adoption records last year.
The court system converted paper adoption documents to digital copies in an experiment to learn more about process and cost, he said.
“There are only a hundred or so adoptions a year,” Thoennes said, so it was a good area for the experiment.
The court system does thousands of criminal cases a year.
The average number of court documents produced each year is around 60,000 to 70,000. Many of those have at least three pages.
The county paid $4,606 in March to house those stored documents. At that pace, it will cost about $55,000 a year to store them.
Thoennes updated the county commission on Tuesday about storage costs and possible options.
“The county has a lot of options,” Thoennes said on Wednesday. Any option will be “a very big process,” he said.
One option is to store documents in county-owned space like the old jail.
If the paper documents are moved, they need to be moved and then shelved in an orderly process so that the documents can be found.
Converting paper documents to digital could be a several step process, Thoennes said. The county could do a certain amount or certain type each year, he said.
The amount of paper documents won’t grow since the county has had digital storage since 2012, but the county will need to continue to pay for storage if the documents are converted or moved.