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District court deals with cyber-shutdown
System may be restored soon
Levi Morris

Kansas courts are still dealing with the effects of a cyber-attack on the state’s judicial branch’s information system back in October. Here in central Kansas, Barton County Attorney Levi Morris said two electronic systems the district court relies on have been inoperable since then, slowing down work at his office.

“The data is safe,” he said, adding he has heard unofficially that everything could be back online as early as this week. Officially, however, the system is expected to be running “in the next few weeks.”

Foreign cybercriminals launched the attack in October, stealing records of appellate cases and judicial administration files potentially regarded as confidential under state law, officials said. 

Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court issued a joint statement confirming perpetrators “stole data and threatened to post it to a dark website if their demands were not met.” 

In this modern era, we expect downtime issues to be resolved in a day or two, but the shutdown has lasted for weeks.

“Initially, they didn’t tell us much,” Morris said. “I joked that the reason we didn’t pay ransom was that none of the Supreme Court justices knew how to buy Bitcoin.”

District Court had used an eFiling system called eFlex for a decade. Another system, known as Fullcourt, was replaced with Odyssey, a new centralized case management system. That transition started a few years ago and Barton County switched to Odyssey last July.

“Any time you file a document with the court, an email goes out and provides a link to the document,” Morris said of how the system should work. For the last seven years, his office has depended on mandatory efiling, with the system automatically set to send a copy to the defense attorney in a given case. With the system offline, everyone had to revert to the old methods of getting documents to the people involved. Not everyone used the same method – documents could be printed and mailed, faxed or emailed. “With everybody scrambling, everybody did it differently.”

Other delays

District Court has faced its share of challenges unrelated to the cyberattack. Courtroom hearings were stopped at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, when a year-old renovation of the Barton County Courthouse began to replace the HVAC system, all of the offices in the building were moved to other locations.

Morris said his office has caught up with the bottleneck of cases caused during the COVID-19 pandemic, although the cyberattack has slowed things down again. He has two or three cases that originated at the height of COVID that are still pending. The reasons they haven’t been resolved are not related to the pandemic.

“When COVID hit, we couldn’t have hearings in the courtroom,” he said. With the cyberattack they could, but the paperwork slowed everything down. For example, after a hearing, a copy of the journal entry goes to the judge and is quickly filed using electronic signatures. Now traditional signatures must be obtained from multiple parties.

Morris said the Barton County Attorney’s Office is also behind on its caseload at this time because it has not been fully staffed for more than a year. His office has had three attorneys instead of four for 18 months, and it wasn’t always the same vacancy. They’ve had two leaves of absence.

There is also good news.

“We got a new computer system in January and it’s awesome,” he said. In the spring, when it became apparent that the courtroom and the county attorney’s office would be located in two different buildings, his staff “shotgunned” a paperless system so they would not have to carry boxes of documents from his temporary office at 1520 Main St. to the temporary office of the 20th Judicial District, located two blocks to the north and across the street at 1709 Main. “It wasn’t planned,” Morris said. Like anything done quickly “under the shotgun,” it isn’t perfect. But this system has been successful, proving once again that “being paperless is good.”