Prince William County Circuit Court officials are close to finalizing a plan that would put the court's land record databases onto a system that would be accessible via the Internet, allowing users to view the court's 5 million microfilm images without going to the courthouse.

The million-dollar project--funded by state and local filing fees collected over the past three years--could be up and running as soon as summer, giving county residents and regional businesses the opportunity to view county records with nothing more than a standard Internet browser.

"I think that it is a revolutionary concept in the way that we do business at the courthouse," Clerk of Courts David C. Mabie (R) said yesterday, adding that it will launch the county court into a new era of technology. "Everything in the past has been predicated by a trip to the courthouse."

At first, the system will offer digital images of the county's land records, going back more than 60 years. The clerk's office also plans to make marriage licenses, business trade name information and partnership information available sometime in the summer.

Deputy Clerk Wendy Jones said the project is part of a statewide initiative to mainstream and computerize land records management in order to save valuable storage space while offering widespread access to public documents. The images, which are now stored on miles of microfilm, will be moved to CD-ROMs that will carry digital files instead of photographs.

"The records rooms are now filled with microfilm, and we're out of space," Jones said yesterday. "The CD-ROMs don't take up a lot of space and offer a much better and clearer image."

Although criminal court docket and indictment information could be available online in the future, Mabie said his office is evaluating whether such information should be readily available over the Internet. He said one of his concerns is allowing easy access to a person's criminal history or marriage history from home computers all over the world.

"For a person to check on how many times their neighbor has been married and divorced, that would currently take a trip down to the courthouse, and people generally aren't willing to do that," Mabie said. "But if it's at someone's fingertips, they might. We have to look at how far we are willing to take this."

Mabie and Jones said that the county is negotiating with a vendor to purchase the hardware for the new system, and that the county could have a contract within the next few months.

Mabie, who was reelected to his second eight-year term in November, said the records management project is one of his primary goals, calling it "the biggest decision a clerk will make in the history of the courts in our county."