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Stop any solo practitioner or assigned counsel in the halls of a New York City criminal court and they will tell tales of mayhem and confusion as they race from courtroom to courtroom, juggling files and pestering clerks for details about charges, schedules and where they have to be tomorrow, the next day and next week. The city’s criminal courts have been called many things, but organized is not one of them. Recently, though, the Office of Court Administration unveiled new software that could bring a little sanity to the task of running a small criminal practice. The project began in the last two years when OCA began installing computers throughout criminal courthouses in the five boroughs, as well as in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Erie counties, and other districts. Attorneys with a “secure pass,” OCA’s security card, can use the computers to look up details on criminal cases, including upcoming court dates, a history of proceedings in the case, details of the charges and crime, and the name of the arresting officer. Much of that information previously had only been available through the clerk’s office, which would often mean waiting in line, and would at least require a trip to the courthouse. The next phase of the project, scheduled for completion in May, will put all this information on the Internet for attorneys with secure passes. About 30 lawyers are testing the Web site now. Once completed, the site will also offer attorneys automatic e-mail notifications for upcoming court dates. Those who use it will have to update their passwords at regular intervals. “At some point we would like to expand this across the board to other courts,” said Ronald Younkins, OCA’s chief of operations. Younkins and his staff have developed the site and information system internally — and on a low budget. Eventually, he said, OCA would like to increase the breadth of such services by linking cases to relevant documents and rulings. He said, however, that such ambitions were not going to be realized in the near future. Two attorneys who are testing the Internet service spoke highly of it and said they were surprised by how well it worked. “I was surprised that it didn’t crash, it worked very well and was reasonably fast,” said Joel S. Medows, a solo practitioner who handles mostly criminal cases and serves on the 18-B assigned-counsel panel. “If you have a lot of cases and you are on trial, you are running around asking for adjournments on 15 or so cases. You spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what happened to your practice. Now, what would have taken me a whole morning a year and a half or two years ago, I just caught up on in 15 to 20 minutes.” Medows said the system would be improved if it also contained biographies of judges, along with their phone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses. The e-mails, he said, could be interactive so messages could be sent to the judges through the system. Overall, though, “We should give [OCA] a pat on the back,” he said. Scott L. Bookstein, a solo practitioner, said the Internet service was a great improvement from the norm. “As a solo, you can’t go to court every time and look something up,” Bookstein said. “It’s pretty on the money. It could be a prettier picture, but the critical issue is getting the information.” While being interviewed over the phone, Bookstein put the system to a little test. Last Friday, he could not make an appearance and asked another attorney to cover for him and request an adjournment. On Monday morning, the “WebCrims” system already had noted the appearance and the adjournment. A new court date appeared on the calendar. “I think that’s great,” he said. Bookstein said he would still like to see more information, such as the amount of bail a judge has set. He would also like to know the name of the Legal Aid Society attorney, or institutional provider, who stood up for a client during arraignment, so he could easily find that attorney and glean more details about a defendant’s case. “It’s a dramatic change,” he said. “The biggest criticism I have is, ‘What took so long?’”

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