BY JOHN HANNA
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Computer systems for almost all of Kansas’ courts have been offline for five days because of what officials call a “security incident,” preventing them from accepting electronic filings and blocking public access to many of their records.
Judicial branch officials still don’t know the extent of the problem or how long the computer systems will remain offline, spokesperson Lisa Taylor said Tuesday. The problem, discovered Thursday, meant the systems haven’t been able to accept electronic filings, process payments, manage cases, grant public access to records, allow people to file electronically for protection-from-abuse orders and permit people to apply electronically for marriage licenses.
Divorced parents who are supposed to receive child support from their ex-spouses are likely to see delays in the processing of their payments, the state Department for Children and Families also announced Tuesday.
The problems don’t affect courts in Johnson County in the Kansas City area, the state’s most populous county, because it operates its own computer systems. But state Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert last week directed the courts in the state’s 104 other counties to accept paper filings and filings by fax or mail, suspending a requirement that attorneys file electronically.
Wisconsin’s court system reported an attack by hackers in March, a cybersecurity threat briefly forced Alaska’s courts offline in 2021, and Texas’ top criminal and civil courts were hit with a ransomware attack in 2020. The International Criminal Court also reported what it called a “cybersecurity incident” in September.
But Taylor said Kansas court officials do not yet know whether its “security incident” was a malicious attack.
“It’s not just one system. It’s multiple systems that are all interconnected,” she said. “We’ve got the electronic filing, which is separate from the case management system, yet they they are connected in some way.”
Because courts have in recent years been keeping only digital copies of many records, those records won’t be accessible to the public with computer systems down, Taylor said.
A joint legislative committee that examines state computer issues expects to receive an update Wednesday on the court system’s problem, said its chair, state Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Republican from western Kansas. He said it’s possible that the computer systems may be offline for several weeks.
“The more we go electronic like this, I just think the more that stuff like this is going to happen,” Hoffman said. “We’ve got to figure out how to safeguard it better.”
In Sedgwick County, home to the state’s largest city of Wichita, District Attorney Marc Bennett said his office worked over the past two decades to fully integrate its internal system for managing records with the local district court’s and state’s system.
Bennett said in an email to The Associated Press that his office still has its own records management system, but it will have to enter information used to track cases by hand. It averaged 69 criminal court hearings a day last year.
He said the integration of his office’s system with the courts’ allowed it to issue subpoenas automatically and verify information from other counties about defendants in Sedgwick County. He said the state court system’s problem is “a far, far bigger issue than the inconvenience of having to hand-file paper documents.”
“Even the mid-size counties do not all have a stand-alone records management system in the county attorney’s office to rely on like we do,” Bennett said. “They will be reduced to white boards or Excel spreadsheets to keep track of the dockets.”