Thousands of records at Stow Municipal Court were damaged, and many may need to be destroyed, after a frozen water line ruptured and flooded the records room on Saturday.
The same pipe has burst three times in the past three weeks, Judge Kim Hoover said, “but this time it burst higher, so it was spraying and coming down through the ceiling.”
The flood did not impact the operations of the court, which remained open Monday, but the water wreaked havoc on paper documents.
“Many of them are like wet tissue paper,” Hoover said. “We have a company that has come in to give us an estimate on what can be done to save some of them.”
Courthouse officials discovered the ruptured water line Saturday evening. Court Administrator Rick Klinger and Stow Building Department personnel hurried to the scene, spreading saturated records throughout the courthouse basement in an effort to dry them.
On Sunday, they were joined by Clerk of Court Kevin Coughlin and his staff, who began sorting the records while the building department staff worked day and night to dry out the clerk’s office, which was also flooded.
Closed case files are stored in the secured records room. Under Ohio law, minor misdemeanors must be saved for five years after they are closed. More serious offenses require storage for 50 years after the cases have closed.
Coughlin, who took office in January after winning an election campaign that promised to modernize the court, said the incident “only strengthens my resolve to transform the court and implement a paperless records system.”
“Over the last few weeks, I have visited other courthouses to observe their use of technology and met with several software vendors with the goal of going paperless within the next 18 months,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin said he has consulted with the Ohio Supreme Court to understand protocol for determining and documenting if a file cannot be saved.
“In these cases, the file will be destroyed. I estimate the number of records to be in the thousands,” he said.