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People filing papers in Connecticut’s federal courts are now being asked to bring clerks something new — a computer disk copy. The non-mandatory program, which began Oct. 14, is a first step toward moving the federal courts to an Internet-based document-filing and case-management system. The effort promises to allow some Internet filings in selected cases starting in early 2004. Litigants are being asked to supply CD-ROM or 3 1/4-inch floppy disks of their pleadings and exhibits, in portable document file (PDF) format. The documents will be available through the federal courts’ PACER system, a database of docket information. To use PACER, individuals and law firms must register and obtain a username and password, which is free but entails about a week delay, since passwords are delivered by mail. PACER users can view or print copies of filings from home or office computers at any time — saving a trip to the courthouse — at the cost of seven cents a page, with an upper limit of $2.10 per document. A small logo will designate cases in which PDF copies of the actual filings are available. The migration to digital filing systems has been in the works for years, and comes just in time. The courts’ existing systems are obsolete and will soon be unsupportable, said Assistant U.S. District Court clerk Victoria Minor. “We need to embrace the power of the Internet to improve court operations and public service,” Minor proclaimed. Kevin F. Rowe, the district’s chief clerk, isn’t disclosing detailed plans or deadlines for going digital. But as paper filings are supplemented and supplanted by digital filings, the changes will be dramatic. Legal notice, by e-mail, will be instantaneous. When a lawyer in a case is served a document by another party electronically, the first viewing within 30 days is free of cost. After that, normal PACER charges apply. Because there are unlimited electronic copies available, files also will no longer be unavailable because they are in a judge’s chambers. “We never lose files,” said Minor, “but sometimes they are misfiled.” With electronic filing, the hunt for a lost file will be much shorter, she promised. Some 32 federal courts have switched to some level of electronic filing. In the tech-savvy federal district, in Washington, D.C., patent cases have been filed on CD-ROM for years. In the mid-1990s, PACER was a simple, dial-in bulletin board system that only listed case docket information. Since then, it’s been upgraded to a Windows-based system on the Internet, with point-and-click navigation in most courts nationwide, although some are limited to the dial-in electronic bulletin board format. Lawyers are required to limit the size of an individual PDF file to 1.5 megabytes, to prevent e-mail transmission problems, Minor said. Pleadings and motions will be available electronically, as will exhibits, unless they are exceptionally long. Some filings contain, or require, listing of bank account or Social Security numbers. For pleadings in the paper files, these are not redacted. But in the PDF versions, litigants are expected to use truncated numbers that are useless for identity theft, Minor said. In criminal cases, access to files will be limited to the parties’ lawyers, she added. The advantages of moving toward electronic filing and retrieval of case documents are manifold, according to Minor. Lawyers who practice far from a federal courthouse, she said, will not be burdened by travel, parking, mail and document delivery costs for routine filings or research. A feature of the PACER system is the ability to look up current filings by case type. Without bothering a clerk, a lawyer is now able to find out how others handled pleadings in a similar case now progressing through court, even without knowing a plaintiff’s or defendant’s name. Though Minor is offering classes on electronic case filing procedures, the classes, limited to 10 people three or four days per month, for November and December are already booked up. Minor is planning to offer more classes in January and February, she said.

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