Before legislators decide on next year's budget, they should remember 2012. That's when the S.C. Department of Revenue experienced one of the largest security breaches ever.
And they should imagine what would happen with a security failure in the state's judicial system.
It's certainly a significant factor in State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal's budget request.
She's asking for $6 million for new technology and training to improve security and $1.5 million a year to operate the system.
It's no puny amount. But the fallout that would follow if the state's court data were lost would be huge.
As Mrs. Toal told a Senate panel recently, "Recurring funds of this type are going to be a part of everybody's budget as you move toward electronic systems."
Judge Toal has wisely advanced technological improvements during her tenure, recognizing they are vital to a court system that runs smoothly and efficiently. The S.C. court system, which is already significantly understaffed, has a heightened need for technology and safeguards for that technology.
For example, the chief justice would like to establish a site at Clemson University to back up digital court records now stored in Columbia. Doing that would cost $5.5 million. It would cost another $500,000 to train staff on data security measures.
Judge Toal says the backup system would allow court business to continue in the event of a disaster that affects data stored in Columbia.
As she reminded legislators last year, an inefficient or inoperative judiciary harms more than a family wanting to settle an estate or people disputing a contract. It harms the reputation of the state in general, and hence the state's appeal for business owners who might be interested in relocating or expanding here.
For several years, the chief justice has been pushing for an electronic court document filing system. Also, she says it is difficult to fill court reporters' jobs in the state. A digital court reporting system, now being tested in Dorchester County, would help address that problem.
The House budget includes $67.7 million for the judicial department. That does not include her security requests - or another $850,000 to improve security in the buildings that house the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. It would also allow her to increase the number of circuit court and family court judges and staff attorneys for both appellate courts. Dockets around the state are overloaded, and these additional positions are necessary to ease that problem.
A functioning court system is one of the most important underpinnings of a healthy society. South Carolina needs to ensure its judiciary has the resources to do its work safely and efficiently.
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