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As federal courts in New York make efforts to upgrade and build new systems for handling cases and to provide Internet access for attorneys and the public, the use of electronic filing in the Eastern District is gaining widespread acceptance. Four years after the district was selected to produce one of four prototypes in the country for electronic filing and case management, both the volume of cases handled electronically and the number of judges using the system are on the increase. In January, Judge Sterling Johnson Jr., became the first judge in the Eastern District of New York to have all of his civil cases — beginning with those filed after the first of the year — handled electronically. “Every court is bombarded with paperwork, and this is eliminating a whole lot of paper,” Johnson said yesterday. “So far, some of the lawyers think it’s going great and others are still confused, because they have only been doing it a short time. But as the kinks are worked out and more people learn to use it, this will be a boon to this courthouse.” Eastern District Court Clerk Robert C. Heinemann said all of the district’s 12 magistrate judges and about half of the U.S. district judges encourage the use of electronic case filing (ECF) with the consent of the parties. Beginning in 1998, all student loan cases, which in any given year can make up as much as 20 percent of the district’s docket, are filed and managed electronically. Social Security cases, also a large part of the docket, are processed through ECF, and New York City has embraced using the system for suits against the city. “From my perspective, it means good news for the court, litigants and the public,” Heinemann said. “It allows you to have 24-hour access to a whole case file, and it avoids having just one piece of paper in one spot that people have to compete for.” Privacy is a major concern for the developing systems. Despite the fact they are public documents, litigants and their attorneys have always enjoyed a measure of de facto privacy in court filings. Anyone, including the press, who wanted access to a case had to know about it in the first place and then make the effort to obtain the file from the clerk’s office. But with electronic filing, people can enter the system and browse to their heart’s content. The federal judiciary is now in the process of formulating a policy on public access, and must decide whether electronic case files should be shielded from unlimited public disclosure. After taking comments on the issue from November through January, federal court officials will hold a public hearing, which is set to begin Friday in Washington, D.C. The district’s prototype is part of the federal judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) program. Begun in 1997, the program is aimed at replacing aging docketing and case management systems in more than 200 bankruptcy, district and appellate courts by 2005. In addition to Brooklyn, district courts in Missouri, Ohio and Oregon have developed ECF prototypes. Five bankruptcy courts have electronic filing, including New York’s Southern District, which began by using the system in Chapter 11 cases. The Southern District continued to expand the system until March 2000, when it became the first court to handle all its cases electronically. Across the way in the Southern District, John Lydon, who handles telecommunications and the district court’s Web site, said the software for CM/ECF that will eventually be deployed nationwide is still under development in Washington, D.C., and “probably won’t be delivered here for another year.” The Southern District now employs the Pacer dial up system where, for a fee, attorneys can dial into the system and check the docket. The court anticipates installing a more efficient, high-speed, PacerNet line soon. POSTING COURT RULINGS How the adoption of electronic case filing, and the introduction of the PacerNet, will affect the posting of decisions on the Internet is unclear, Lydon said. Currently, the district makes some court opinions available on the Internet in a system called CourtWeb, but participation is voluntary and only a handful of judges now use the system. “There is nothing that requires a judge to use it,” said Lydon. “It’s simply a matter of time, interest and inclination.” CourtWeb, developed by the Southern District, is run through Internet service provider Palmer Computing in New York. It functions primarily as a notification service that allows attorneys who subscribe to a watch list to be notified by e-mail when a decision in a particular case is issued. But general users can also access CourtWeb to review a list of the decisions posted by all judges during the day by logging on to nysd.uscourts.gov/ courtweb. In addition to Southern District opinions, readers can scan for opinions from the Northern District of New York as well as courts in Illinois, Minnesota, Utah and Texas. Lydon said that more courts are joining CourtWeb, but there is a limit to how much the system can handle. That problem may never arise, he said, because of the introduction of electronic case filing. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who chairs the Southern District’s technology committee, said that once the courts make the move to electronic case filing, he does not see a role for CourtWeb. Kaplan, who also serves on the technology committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body of federal courts, is also front and center in the debate over privacy under electronic case filing. “I think it raises a very serious issue,” Kaplan said. “How would you like it if, in the course of a personal injury case, you had medical records relating to a psychiatric condition? The short answer, with paper files, is that the court issues a protective order. This issue has to be addressed in the electronic area.” 2ND CIRUIT The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is now in the middle of a complete overhaul of its case management system, which Court Clerk Roseann B. MacKechnie said will hopefully be up and running this summer. “It’s a monumental project, we are making all of our operations Windows compatible, instead of using archaic codes,” she said. Joel Turner, assistant circuit executive for automation, said that, in addition to the in-house development of the case management system, the circuit continues to use the national Appellate Bulletin Board System (ABBS) a service that allows registered attorneys to check the docket. “What we intend to do is move our bulletin board system to a Web site,” Turner said. “Our docket sheets will remain on ABBS, because that’s part of the Judicial Conference of the United States, and we must charge for those.” Circuit Executive Karen Milton said the demand by attorneys for a Web site had to take a back seat to the in-house development of a case management system, which is currently being tested. The circuit she said, envisions a Web site that serves as a “virtual counter” for the public, one that will contain written decisions and summary orders, local rules and attorney registration information, forms and the telephone numbers of key departments.

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