Few sporting events are as steeped in tradition as the America’s Cup yacht race. The coveted America’s Cup, the oldest active trophy in international sport, is the corpus of a charitable trust created over 150 years ago under the laws of New York state.1
That trust, the Deed of Gift, has twice been the subject of litigation before our courts, most recently, in Golden Gate Yacht Club v. Societe Nautique de Geneve,2 in which New York courts were called upon to construe the deed’s requirements for a yacht club seeking to establish itself as the challenger of record,3 and to rule on such nautical matters as the permissible configuration of the yachts’ hulls4 and the measurement of the waterline. 5
As the case navigated its way through the courts, the legal match was watched as intently as the yacht race itself, with people from around the world, including Italy, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, Poland and Australia, tracking the case online using the New York Unified Court System’s eTrack system.6 With each new decision or other development in the case, e-mails were sent to subscribers, providing them with immediate access to the latest information on this hotly contested dispute.
eTrack is just one of the many new tools that the New York state judiciary is using to manage its ever-growing caseload and to provide the bar and the public with the type of access to information that, in the age of Google and Twitter, they are coming to expect.
While the America’s Cup litigation illustrates the value of eTrack to members of the press and others interested in certain high-profile cases, thousands of New York attorneys have come to rely on this service everyday to help them manage their cases.
The eTrack system allows attorneys, litigants and, indeed, any interested person, to sign up for automatic updates in as many cases as they wish, at no charge. In addition to notification of decisions, adjournments, motions filed, and other case developments, eTrack allows subscribers to sign up for e-mail appearance reminders, which, at the subscriber’s option, are sent out either one, seven, 15 or 30 days before a scheduled court appearance.
Currently, eTrack covers civil cases in Supreme Court throughout the state, local civil court cases in many counties (including all of New York City), and criminal cases in 13 counties (again, including all of New York City).
In addition to eTrack’s e-mail update service, the court system posts an array of case information on eCourts, an online service that includes calendars, dispositions and decisions in an ever-expanding category of cases.7
WebCivil Supreme provides online access to both active and disposed Civil Supreme Court cases throughout all of New York state, while WebCivil Local contains information on both active and disposed local civil court cases in many jurisdictions, and will soon cover local civil cases throughout the state.
WebCrims lets users view information about pending criminal cases in local and Supreme courts in 13 counties, as well as summons cases for all of New York City. WebFamily provides information on active Family Court cases in all 62 counties of New York state and Integrated Domestic Violence Court cases.8
Finally, WebHousing offers information on pending landlord-tenant cases in the Housing Part of New York City Civil Court as well as Buffalo City Court in Erie County.
While online programs such as eTrack and eCourts are making the New York state courts increasingly navigable and accessible to the bar and public, the court system is making ever greater use of technology to streamline operations, optimize resources and provide better service.
For example, technology is facilitating access to our justice system for the nearly 30 percent of New Yorkers whose primary language is not English. E-scheduling for interpreters facilitates prompt and efficient assignment of qualified interpreters, and secure courtroom links that support real-time interpreting from remote locations enable our courts to provide interpreting services to the widest range of court users possible, not only criminal defendants but also parties in civil cases, witnesses and crime victims.
Similarly, WebDVS, an Internet-based application, promotes the safety of domestic violence victims by speeding the process by which information about orders of protection are disseminated to state and federal criminal justice agencies, a matter of increasing importance as the number of orders of protection issued grows steadily.
In addition, as Family Court filings reached a record level in 2009, data-sharing projects that link the Family Court’s case management system with the data system of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services are increasing the reliability of the two systems and streamlining the processing of child protective petitions.
Online technology has also enabled us to offer greater assistance to the nearly two million unrepresented litigants who annually use the courts.
Since last year, the CourtHelp Web site9 has featured interactive modules, developed in partnership with New York state’s legal services community, offering do-it-yourself or “DIY Forms” for Family Court paternity and support modification petitions, Surrogate’s Court small estate affidavits, Supreme Court adult name change petitions, as well as a variety of New York City Civil Court forms.
Our court system’s online offerings are expanding rapidly as we develop new and more efficient means to conduct the business of our courts. The addition of new “DIY” forms for unrepresented litigants is planned, and additional jurisdictions are continually incorporated into the eCourts program.10 Later this year, attorneys will have the option of filing their biennial registration online.
Along with benefits, however, the 21st century’s technological growth has itself presented new challenges.
The increased reliance on electronic records, particularly, but not exclusively, in business, has led to new discovery and evidence issues cutting across all types of cases. Electronic discovery tends to be more complicated, more expensive, and incur more delay than its traditional counterparts.
To address these growing concerns, the Unified Court System issued a report in February 2010 proposing a number of ways the courts could simplify and improve the flow of cases with electronic discovery issues, without the need for legislative action.
In 2010 and beyond, the court system will be exploring increased and improved education for judges and nonjudicial personnel in relevant issues, piloting new approaches to resolve electronic discovery disputes as early as the preliminary conference, and urging greater cooperation among litigants to insure a fair, but efficient litigation process.11
The administration of justice in the 21st century is challenging and complex. The technological initiatives we have instituted, and future initiatives, will ensure that even in the most demanding times, our court system can continue its tradition of ensuring our citizens the equal and effective access to justice that our Constitution and laws require.
Ann Pfau is Chief Administrative Judge of the New York State Unified Court System.
1. See Mercury Bay Boating Club Inc. v. San Diego Yacht Club, 76 NY2d 256 (1990); http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/archives/mercury_sandiego.htm.
2. Index No. 602446/2007.
3. 12 NY3d 248 (2009).
8. Names of parties and other personal identifying information are not posted on WebFamily.
11. The Report to the Chief Judge and Chief Administrative Judge on Electronic Discovery in the New York State Courts is available at: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/comdiv/PDFs/E-DiscoveryReport.pdf.