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October 27, 2011 · Filed Under Uncategorized
25 Responses to “Comments about e-Court”
Please be sure to make the e-court system platform neutral, i.e., Mac compatible as well as Windows. You are probably already doing this, but past experience has led me to mention this issue early in a project, not at the end.
I also practice in the Federal Courts and I just want to express my full support for this project.
E filing makes everything easier and cheaper. You save on printing costs, storage costs, mailing costs, etc.
E Filing makes finding things easier.
E Filing makes the Court Clerks and Staff jobs easier.
E Filing should be State-wide and strictly modeled after the Federal PACER system. No need to re-invent the wheel. The PACER system seems to work and I whole-heartedly support such an implementation into the State.
BAR NEWS QUESTIONS:
-Filing Fees Should Stay the same.
-Retrieval of documents 8 cents per page, no charge for Court Orders and Opinions.
-Vendor/Storage Questions: Emulate PACER.
-Entire Court Sites (not piece-mail)
-Implementation should start with only new filings. And then if time/resources permit, closed files could be added and accessed for a higher fee.
If e-filing becomes mandatory for Probate Division in the Circuit Court, how does one e-file an original Will?
Thank you for your time.
Barbara B. DeHart, Esquire
I beleive that the system has the capability, but I did not seee this function explicitly stated in the summary of efiling; will the scheduling be checked system wide to avoid attorneys being scheudled in two or more courts at the same time? If so, the scheduling conflicts checks should include others who often participate in the courts such as police officers, DHS personel, or state lab techs.
An e-filing system will be more inconvenient, but there’s no way this is going to save law firms $75 per filing.
If the Court is going to save $38 million by going to an e-filing system, why would there be a “transaction fee” for filing documents? The Federal Courts don’t charge a transaction fee for filing. They merely charge 8 cents a page for accessing documents that have either been accessed before (your “first look” is free) or that are not part of your case. I think a transaction fee is unneeded, would cripple the system and would cause an outrage.
From my experience using the Federal Court e-filing system, there are less problems filing things in the District Court (trial level) than the appellate courts. If the Court system wants to see early success, the e-filing system should begin in the trial courts, not the Supreme Court.
I wanted to make a correction to a typo in my last comment. I think e-filing will be more “convenient” – not “inconvenient.”
Currently, E-Court is not budgeted at a high enough level to pay for the cost to implement across the entire scope. Although there are some differences, the two most recent e-Court projects were awarded at $31M (Oregon) and $45M (Maryland). There are not good numbers to peg what PACER cost to develop but many estimate that at over $100M. Currently the NH Legislature authorized just under $2M.
The vast majority of jurisdictions that implement e-Filing do not have this massive up front funding. Rather they charge fees as a much needed way of reinvesting to expand the coverage and services needed for success.
The projected $38M taxpayer savings is over 10 years. If the construction and transition costs were fully funded there would be no need for transaction fees. But this does not seem like a feasible plan given the current state budget realities. User fees seem like the alternative most widely used.
Lastly, although many firms may not feel a $75 savings per filing, there should be some savings due to copies and postage alone. When those costs are added to the labor cost associated with paper handling, it is pretty easy to cover the typical $5 fee. The $75 savings came from studies by West and others that used labor rates that seemed higher than NH norms.
Thanks for your thoughts,
Can you provide or post any information you have performed on cost savings analysis for e-filing in NH?
We are working on this and will post results when complete,
I noticed the comment that the current CMS used by the court does not have the ability to manage electronic documents. Seems that to actually take advantage of the potential benefits of electronic filing, the CMS would need to effectively and efficiently interoperate with the filing system. Is the cost of providing an appropriate CMS to take advantage of the potential benefits of e-filing dialed into the project? If not, what are the risks of creating a classic Rube Goldberg machine?
In reviewing all the materials I have the impression the project is looking to simply transfer the current method of document filing from a paper to electronic documents process. Isn’t this just changing the method as opposed to using the potential to alter the process? Simply having documents in an electronic format may alter the storage issues and allow for “cloud” (whatever that may mean)usage, but really isn’t changing anything in a fundamental way and seems a constrained view of what could be done to increase efficiency and productivity. As one example, by implementing an XML Schema for court documents created internally and externally, processing case data could be simplified and automated.
The NH courts current CMS is integratable with Document/Content Management Systems. The integration between the case management system and e-filing and document management is specified in the ECF 4.0 and NEIM xml standards. So essentiall the vision is that the technical solution will involve XML as an exchange method using a service oriented architecture.
The NH courts are undertaking a comprehensive business process re-engineeing project to maximise customer service value and streamline all service delivery processes. This will deliver a simpler, leaner, more reliable,and efficient system than if we mearly automated existing case processing workflows.
Thank you for clarifying and detail.
Sounds very good and obviously going in the right direction. Not trying to sound critical, but just asking questions that come to mind as I read the material on the website which does not directly explore what you have just explained. Maybe I have not found it yet. Perhaps unfair to expect a discussion of XML and SOA at this point.
So might the system provide a schema for attorneys to use for documents to be filed and might using XML based files as opposed to the current method of using PDFs in the Fed. system be the approach?
Some jurisdictions have have published the interface and some firms have built their own connections. We are not at the point where we have considered that from a policy perspective but I am sure we will get there.
Thanks for your interest and comments.
I would like to follow up on the comment by Mr. Lawson about using the potential of efiling to make a difference in the way we practise. I am perhaps projecting his comment. Since I do not have the technical knowledge to discuss system types, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you what I beleive a system should be able to do. I will referr to the family law area, but they apply to all types of cases.
A system should be able to sort docments and protions ofdocuments so that the clerk can print or electronically send an up-to-date Order on parenting or the financial issues that incomporates all changes that have occured in the orders over time into one document.
It should also be possible to have a record of other orders and findings that are generated from indivudual motions. Currently we receive a copy of a 5 page motion with judges handwriting on the last page granting or denying certain requests.
The system should be able to keep track of the findings of fact which have been granted or not granted instead of recevign an order that says “findings 1-5 have been granted, and 6 denied” the order would list the request for findings so they can be understood by the receipiant without the need to cross check the order with the parteis filings. I also beleive that Judges would benefit from being able to review their findings for inconsistnacies.
There could be a seperate document entitled “found facts” so that there is a record of facts that have been found, or found not ex Spouce did not steal money from joint account. This history of findings would be extremely helpful for Judges unfamiliar with a case who are called in for emergnecy or ex-parte hearings. Judge Kelley told the recent meeting of the family law section that it was unlikely that there would be one judge follow a single case. Such a record of found facts could be extremely useful in these circumstances.
There would be policy issues concnerning who would have access to the compliations, just judges, parties or the public. That is for another discussion. I apologize for any spelling errors.
I am very much in favor of going to electronic filing and finally putting the post office out of its misery. I just do not see how this could possibly be done on a mere $2 million!
Isn’t it time for the residents of NH to start paying sales and/or state income taxes to fund this project and the judicial branch in general? You cannot get something for nothing, which is what the legislature is trying to do, by crippling the judicial branch beyond its ability to provide justice.
While I certainly appreciate the value and benefit of moving toward an electronic filing system I am curious as to how the issue of connectivity will be addressed in communities that still lack access to broadband and will for the foreseeable future. While the powers that be maintain that most of the state has broadband access, in many of those communities they are counting access to satellite as “broadband” access. Anyone who has been forced to use satellite has surely experienced weather blackouts for one — not to mention substantial downloading limitations and other related connectivity issues. How will these connectivity issues be addressed?
Thank you for your consideration.
I am concerned about connectivity issues for areas of New Hampshire that lack access to broadband. How does the project intend to address these issues?
I was greatly encouraged by the presentation this morning. While there were some outspoken advocates of particular interest groups, it was apparent to me, just getting up to speed on the eFiling work product, that the process is well begun. I agree with the “smartform” idea, and would encourage its adoption for all mandatory filings to increase access to justice by the self-represented. I agree with funding by an increase to the filing fee as suggested by Mark Rouvalis- it’s universal, upfront, known, and familiar. (I acknowledge that funding government by fee is a repressive tax violative of the constitutional requirement that taxation be proportionate, made necessary as a political expedient in a state without a broadbase tax.) I disagree that the State agencies should be exempt. (If the Legislature looked at funding of government as a Statewide issue rather than a branch by branch and even agency by agency issue, I wouldn’t care. As it is, the exemption shifts the cost of the Executive Branch to the Judicial Branch, which bothers me in that services my constituents could use are unavailable because of budgetary constraints.) As the concepts discussed are made more concrete in the design process, I think a couple things would make the final system more helpful and useful, at least from my perspective.
First, I think the system should focus on processing information and not just paper as a systemic model. It seems to me that civil litigation in its present guise presupposes an ignorant client and an enlightened guide, the attorney. The client is ignorantB not of the facts of his case, but of the law of his case and of the rules and protocols of the court system. Law school and case specific legal research teaches lawyers the law of the case, and years of experience teaches lawyers where to sit, how to practically deal with burdens of production and of persuasion, and how to get along with clerks, bailiffs, judges and the other staff that make the court work. In my view, any proposal that attempts to make self- litigants into Aenlightened guides@ of their own cases in this system is doomed. I think that the system should guide the end result whenever possible. I think the “smartform” idea does this. I would encourage simplicity. By way of example, the initial filing could be generated by asking four questions- “what’s your name and address?”, “What’s the name and address of the person you’re suing?”, “What did they do wrong?”, and “What do you want the court to do?” The system would then generate the Declaration, Petition, or better, a one-form-of-action called a Complaint.
Second, while we are looking at eFiling, it’s a good time to examine what we presently do that poses problems for practitioners and self-litigants alike. Our procedure is archaic and anachronistic, and this is a good time to change it. We shouldn=t need to look any further than the example of the return date to grasp this point. We shouldn=t expect self- litigants to try to understand and comply with a procedure that lacks common sense in many regards. In the words of computer software engineers, we should strive to make the process Aintuitive@ and “user friendly” to the lay person, not just explainable by the scholar who understands the historical basis for separating equity and law, tort and contract, the sovereign and the litigant. The system should promote rational use of the court system by non-lawyers and lawyers alike. Any form first adopted in the 1800s should be suspect. (See eg. RSA 509:2.)
Third, the e-Filing system should guide the input. My complaint about the Federal Court System is that it is menu driven, and the user has to know the menu to know how to file a document. I suppose this is because the menu item selected becomes the docket entry, but in practice I (at least) spend a lot of time opening menus to see what options are available. I think a Google search type menu would be more user friendly. I don’t know what examples are out there in other states, but a query box such as “what do you want to do?” with answers such as “start a lawsuit”, “file a complaint”, “sue my neighbor” all leading to the initial filing smartform might be easier to navigate for self-litigants. To the extent there are differences in procedures or scheduling requirements, the system should incorporate those into whatever menu system there has to be, such that a landlord-tenant case gets a different menu, if there has to be one, than a personal injury action.
I think we should change the writ form, among others. While not really an eFiling issue, it’s a good time to look at this. The current writ is a mis-marriage of the sovereign=s command and the party=s statement of claim. The sovereign needs to speak in the summons; people need to understand the solemnity and seriousness of the State=s command to respond to the litigation. In my view the importance of that message gets diminished in commingling that command with the declaration and vulgarized by allowing the litigant to fill it out and sign it. Frankly, bearing the pre-printed Ateste@ of the chief and clerk doesn’t do much to instill respect for the court or the process. This is a case where a gold seal and other trappings are in order, but it ought to come that way from the Court, not a party. While we’re at it. change the declaration. As I said, get it out of the writ and onto a smart form.
Again not so much an eFiling point, but I think we should take responsibility for service out of the hands of the parties. As it presently stands, the clerk returns the filed writ and receipt to the party, who then sends it to the sheriff for service. I don=t know the percentage of defendants who reside in the same county where the writ is filed, but I=ll wager it predominates. Add the sheriff=s fee to the filing fee, and have the clerk carry the box of writs down the hall. This serves two good purposes. First, the self-litigant doesn=t have to figure out the service rules. Putting the notice in the box for delivery to the sheriff would save the clerk having to explain how to make service to every self-litigant. Secondly, the clerk can provide notice to the defendant designed to elicit the proper response. “Appearing” the first Tuesday of a subsequent month for a hearing that will never happen is out. The notice should tell the self-litigant how to eFile an appearance.
The rules should require an answer to all lawsuits in a smartform. The self-litigant shouldn=t have to guess what the “general issue” is. (In my experience, very few people really know the strict common law rules of the general issue; it has become a generic dispute of everything.) More importantly, pleading the general issue doesn=t start to develop the factual issues in a case. The smartform should guide the eFiler to set out why he doesn=t owe the plaintiff. (One other thing, people pay their speeding tickets by mail because they are given the option to do so. The first option given the defendant should read AI agree I owe the plaintiff $____________@. Case over.)
The eFiling system should separate the supervisory functions of the Court and Clerk’s office from the adjudicatory functions, and automate all supervisory functions such as scheduling, ADR, expert disclosures. A good example is the structuring conference. An actual conference should be the exception. Probably 90% of civil monetary cases end up with essentially the same one-year track. When the system sets up the docket, a scheduling order should be automatically generated and mailed out. Provide for amendment by stip or motion, but don=t make people come to court just to agree on a scheduling order. Require that parties file reports of compliance with ADR, expert disclosure, and other pretrial requirements and the court can supervise that compliance, rather than the procedure itself.
Adopt standard discovery and mandatory disclosure on system generated forms. We should consider and facilitate the role of discovery in civil litigation for the self- litigant. Without discovery, the parties never reach an understanding of the other party=s case that allows them to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the lawsuit. In my experience, cases do not settle until there is some understanding of the other side=s proofs and positions and an acknowledgment of the weak points in my client=s case. To make this happen for self- litigants, the Court should require both sides to complete standard interrogatories, and the system could do this. There could be a set for automobile, domestic, contract, generic. There could be provision for additional questions to be added. We presently have Mandatory Disclosure of witnesses, documents, damages itemization, and other information in the Pretrial Statement. Consider requiring it earlier in the case, or, make it part of the mandatory interrogatories. Require they be filed with the Court.
On the procedures for waivers for eFiling failures due to technology shortcomings, bear in mind that many of the time limits on actions cannot be waived by court rule. The deadlines for land-use appeals are subject matter jurisdictional, for example. Vested statute of limitations defenses are constitutionally protected. The Federal Court places the burden of compliance on practitioners, and planning ahead is probably the best practice.
The Federal Court has dealt with the problem of large and physical exhibits, their process seems to be working nationwide.
Thanks for your work on this.
Thanks for your comments Mr. Murphy.
I share your conserns Ms. Bell. We will be exploring alternatives to deal with internet access. I can assure you that our goal is to improve access to the courts for all.
First I want to thank whoever put this site front and center on the court’s website. Then I want to thank the presenter at the meeting this morning. It is hard to balance the interests of the technical problems with the end user concerns.
I expect that the choice of who controls the efiling system, the state or a vendor, has impications that will only become understandable when they go wrong, so I agree that the court needs to own the system.
I will be parochial here, but I would hope the servers could be in New Hampshire, and if not, please keep them in the United States.
I would like to build on the comentator who discussed the potential of efiling. I agree that we need to look at the goal of the electronic process by the function it fills in the process of a case. The clerks understandably deal with the flow of paper, or now electronic, words. Whatever the format, the words have relevance only when they effect the lives of the litigants. This is a good time to assess the processes themselves.
I have suggested to various powers-that-be that there is a need for an innovation commission (this time with attorney input) to suggest changes to make the entire process work better on our side of the counter. The implimentation of efiling should be an important part of that process but there is no reason not to impliment changes in the meantime.
The most serious concern I have comes from my recent experience as a customer of the legal system. I assure you; attorneys are necessary. My counselor could not be replaced by a “smart” machine.
I have already had to deal with pro se’s who completed a divorce decree without representation. The idea that self-represented person can run through a program and come up with a written solution is not possible. For an easy example: how many of you would answer a medical questionaire and say you are obese, and totally sedentary, even if the doctor would, after a few questions, enter those “facts”. Oh yes, and “do you have a drinking/substance problem?” is the type of question that I suspect has a low reliability rating, in the medical field as well as the legal system. The word “clean” has infinite interpertations.
More to the point, it is not possible to distill the factors that go into the decision to, say, keep the house in a divorce. People come in and think that if X is supposed to be resonsible for the mortgage, then they will be removed from the mortage. Should we try to include each factor and weigh it and so end up with an all day “program” to make the decision? I am waiting for the case that will arise when the court produced form “waiver” of all claims (including Alimony) is tested. Since this is a court site I will not express my views but I think everyone should have some concern.
I think we need to look at why there are so many self-represented. Some feel comfortable in the court system. I believe there are a few who actully find the court system fullfilling and amusing. The definition of “borderline personality disorder” in the DSM actually lists “often invovled in legal matters” as a symptom. Efiling is not going to deal with that issue.
Most people want the assistance of an attorney. The new limited appearance is a help but many of the attorneys I have spoken to do not trust it to protect them from PPC criticism.
I think the number of pro se litigants comes from the cost of legal representation.The court and the bar need to find and accept ways of meeting the needs of the parties within the budget of the average New Hampshirite. I can remember when the system did work. Efiling will help, but it is not the whole answer.
With efiling it will be easier to produce long and rambling motions. It would be nice if the clerks would then have time to review and return a 16 page pro se motion to be clarified. Or to have gratuitous personal attacks removed.
The flip side of that is that the exisitng forms do not have adequate space for information, and many I believe do not provide for the legal points that need to be met in the matter at hand.Ex: no space for the necessary information in cases of adultry on the present divorce petition.
I apoligize if this has gone on too long, or if I have missed my typos.
Peter – I am working on a Bar News article on status of e-court project. Due this week.
when is the master plan due to be released?
Other than what was disclosed at the briefing in January, anything else that’s ready to be discussed?
Also, looking for an update on the mission of the Access to Court Records Task Force chaired by Judge Smukler.
This is going to require a new approach to court security. At present, getting electronic devices into some courthouses is quite difficult, if not impossible. I have been challenged even where the cell phone or laptop was actual evidence. With an eCourt system, we will have to have access to our electronic devices in court. That means major rules changes at some courts, which means it might be a good time to address the overall issue of attorneys’ access to the courts.
The background investigation we go through in NH to become attorneys is far more extensive than what any cop in NH goes through. Despite this, we are (in some courts) subjected to something just short of a strip search, just like the general public. However, cops get to walk into the court carrying loaded weapons and live ammunition without any restriction.
In MA, all I have to do is show my BBO card and a photo ID to get into any court. BTW, the background check to become admitted in MA isn’t 1/2 as intensive as what we are subjected to in NH. Please note that it has been a long time since an attorney in MA has committed some violent act in a courthouse.
If we are going to go forward with eCourt, and we really must, then we should be looking at the entire functioning of the court.
In the powerpoint presentation for the last informational meeting, I noticed the consensus was for a court as opposed to vendor provided system. Does this mean the underlying system will be owned and managed by the court system or that a vendor will provide the system under contract with the court system. I assume the reference to multiple vendors referred to requiring users to go through an approved set of filing service vendors as opposed to directly accessing the e-filing system. This appears to be how some courts has structured their e-filing systems.
In the NH Bar news there was a reference to data storage via “the Cloud”. Since the term “the Cloud” is at best a generic term for a variety of off-site systems and at worst a meaningless marketing term, how is “the Cloud” expected to be used for the NH e-filing system.
If the system is to be provided by a contract with one of existing e-filing system vendors, given cost constraints, etc. just how much customization is anticipated? To what extent will court procedures need to be altered to adapt to the system provided by the vendor?
Raise the filing fee if you must, but please do not charge a fee for each filing in a case. What a nightmare that would be.
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