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Ten Courts of Appeals Move to CM/ECF
The district courts are doing it. The bankruptcy courts have already done it.
Now it’s the turn of the federal courts of appeals.
Ten of the 13 courts of appeals are participating in the Judiciary’s national
rollout of the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system that is now
in use in 89 district courts, 92 bankruptcy courts, the Court of International
Trade and the Court of Federal Claims. Unlike those courts, the courts of
appeals are still in the implementation stage, which began in 2005. During this
time, functions have been added and kinks subtracted. Says Gary Bowden, chief of
the Administrative Office’s Appellate Court and Circuit Administration Division,
“The 10 courts of appeals are making steady progress and we expect the first
courts to go live with the CM/ECF system by late 2006 or early 2007.”
According to Bowden, this is the first time the AO has provided a national
application supporting the courts of appeals, including clerks’ offices, staff
attorneys, and circuit mediation programs, which historically each have had
The Second, Eleventh, and Federal Circuits, which support their own unique
case management systems, are not implementing CM/ECF at this time, but future
transfer to the system is a strong possibility in the Second and Eleventh
“The rollout of CM/ECF to the more than 90 district and bankruptcy courts,
was done in waves with prototypes and pilot courts,” said Bowden. “But with only
10 courts of appeals participating, the distribution is a little different. A
preliminary version of the CM/ECF system is rolling out to all the courts at the
The version the appellate courts receive is relatively complete, but up-dates
and functionality will continue to be added as users gain familiarity with the
system and suggest improvements. The final version will be distributed to the
courts in July 2006.
Development of the CM/ECF system for the courts of appeals has been a
cooperative effort between the Administrative Office and the courts.
“There were few enough courts, so that we could involve them heavily in
developing and testing the system, and providing feedback to the AO,” said
Bowden. “It’s a product of their close involvement.”
In the Eighth Circuit, Clerk of Court Michael Gans and his staff tested how
well data on the existing Appellate Information Management system would transfer
to the CM/ECF system.
“The AO asked us to take the lead,” said Gans, “and we worked with the
Systems Deployment and Support Division in San Antonio and the CM/ECF
development team to verify the conversion process. Other courts will follow
“Before courts go live with CM/ECF,” explained Project Director Gary Bockweg
in the AO’s Office of Court Administration, “they work with a version of the
system that will let them build their event dictionaries, experiment with local
reports, train staff, and let their automation people see how the system works
on their server.”
Although Clerk of Court Marcia Waldron, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit, has worked with CM/ECF for only a few months, she anticipates certain
“Appeals can be, by their nature, paper-intensive,” Waldron explains. “With
most case-related papers stored electronically in the system and readily
accessible, I expect CM/ECF to save us time.”
The CM/ECF implementation is welcome news for the courts. “The old case
management systems used by the courts of appeals,” said Bockweg, “were built in
the early 1980s. Their components — both the hardware and operating systems —
were no longer supported by vendors. The point had been reached where new
software wasn’t compatible with old hardware and the old system was becoming too
expensive to maintain. The changeover to the new CM/ECF is a matter of
As of May 2006, more than 26 million cases are on CM/ECF systems, and 230,000
attorneys and others have filed documents over the Internet. In fiscal year
2005, over 68,473 appeals were filed in the courts of appeals, where filings
have increased nearly 32 percent in the last decade.