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The New Jersey judiciary took two more steps toward a “paperless” court system last week, making motion calendars fully available on the Internet and announcing plans to expand the Special Civil Part Internet document filing program statewide. The expanded Judiciary Electronic Filing and Imaging System (JEFIS) program, which has been used on a pilot basis in Monmouth County, N.J., for a year, makes New Jersey the first state to offer electronic filing for an entire court division, says James Rebo, assistant director of the Information Systems Division of the judiciary. SEE NOTICE TO THE BAR By this fall, attorneys who register and establish an account with the Superior Court Clerk’s Office in Trenton, N.J., will be able to file all pleadings and other documents electronically for civil actions involving $10,000 or less. Registration packets are available from the judiciary’s Web site: www.judiciary.state.nj.us. Meanwhile, motion calendars have already been brought online. The purpose is to offset the need for lawyers to call judges’ chambers to confirm dates and times before each hearing, thereby taking a load off the court’s support staff. “Court staff have to field hundreds and hundreds of calls a couple of days before each motion day,” says Jane Castner, assistant director of civil practice for the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) of New Jersey, pointing to the 210,000 civil motions filed annually. Now, “it should be a lot easier for them.” Coincidentally, the online calendar listings come just three weeks before the sweeping “best practices” changes are due to take effect, and the best practices rules make mention of online calendars as part of the revamping of motion procedures. Online calendars are also in line with the goal of eventually computerizing all areas of the court system, a move that was spearheaded by the Supreme Court’s Judiciary Information Systems Policy Committee 15 years ago. Eventually, the courts will be an almost entirely paperless system, Rebo says. The Special Civil electronic filing process was successfully tested in a pilot project in Monmouth County. During the one-year test period, Rebo says, no documents were lost and the system has had no problems with hacking or viruses. “We have firewalls and are obsessed about security,” Rebo says. “We are using all the latest software.” Rebo says that the system is also immune from the recent “Lovebug” e-mail viruses and its copycats that have wreaked havoc on corporate computer systems because it does not use Microsoft e-mail. The online calendars list motion dates and times for cases in the Civil, General Equity and Special Civil parts in each county. It also lists the parties involved, the attorney or firm and indicates which one filed the motion. By early next month, the Web service will also indicate whether oral arguments will be heard, Castner says. That’s no small blessing for the law clerks who currently field attorneys’ calls on the Wednesday before a Friday motion to let them know whether the judges will hear oral arguments. “When you’re concentrating on writing a motion or doing the research for a motion, and a phone call comes in and it brings you away from that, it’s actually a lot more time than that,” says John Podesta, a law clerk for Essex County Superior Court Judge Edmond Kirby. Podesta says the phone calls from lawyers confirming motions consume up to 90 minutes each day on Wednesdays and Thursdays. All told, Judge Kirby’s chambers usually receive around 50 calls a week on such routine scheduling matters, he says. As of last week, there was no difference in the calls, but Podesta says that he hopes attorneys will use the online service and use the telephone only in unusual circumstances. Attorney reaction to the changes is predictably mixed. Jersey City lawyer Eugene Paolino is looking forward to the changes, but with some reservations. The online filing system will probably save time, says Paolino, a partner with Schumann Hanlon Doherty McCrossin & Paolino. He doesn’t mind getting calendar information online, but he is leery about filing documents electronically because of the potential for glitches. He is also concerned that documents can be altered electronically and that such tampering would be impossible to detect. Rebo allays those fears, explaining that when attorneys file documents online, they will get an immediate e-mail including a confirmation number that serves as proof of the filing. But there are still doubters. “From my perspective, the current system works fine,” says Andrew Dwyer, a partner of Newark’s Dwyer & Ellis. So, at least for now, he’ll continue confirming motions the old-fashioned way — by telephone. Amos Gern, of Roseland’s Starr, Gern, Davison & Rubin, also says he rarely uses the Internet and prefers actually talking to a person, just to make sure that the scheduled events are accurate and timely. “All this computerized stuff is wonderful, but it only gets you so far,” Gern says. Because of the possibility of mistakes or last-minute changes, Gern says he would much rather take a moment to check with court staff than risk making a needless trip to the courthouse only to find that an event has been rescheduled. “The system is rife with glitches, just human and computer error,” Gern says. “If you don’t follow up on a person-to-person level, things fall through the cracks.” Gern does acknowledge that the deluge of calls from attorneys may be a burden to the court staff and that eventually his office may have to change its method of operation to keep pace with the times. For those who are accustomed to using the Internet, like Ridgewood solo practitioner Joseph Santoli, the online calendar is a step in the right direction. “I think I would use it exclusively,” says Santoli, who draws a lot of his mass tort clients from the Internet through a Web page. Santoli believes the online calendars would be more convenient and feels no need to continue making confirmation phone calls in addition to checking the Web. “I think it’s very useful,” says Ed Kasselman, a partner with Bathgate Wegener & Wolf in Lakewood. With several motions scheduled for the coming weeks, Kasselman started using the online calendar last week. But for him, there is still a twinge of uncertainty the tells him to call the court anyway to double-check, says Kasselman, a trustee and former chairman of the Ocean County Bar Association’s Civil Practice Committee. “We don’t yet trust the system,” Kasselman admitted. “We’re going to confirm everything by phone until we’re sure that all the kinks have been worked out.”

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