This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
Appellate Courts Go Live With CM/ECF
Some day in the not-too-distant future, locating and reading a brief
filed in a federal appellate case will become as easy as finding an
appeals court opinion. And electronic appellate briefs will feature
hyperlinks to lower court rulings, statutes, regulations, and other
"Judges generally are excited about having attorneys
file briefs that contain hyperlinks to citations,” said Gary Bowden,
chief of the Administrative Office’s Appellate Court and Circuit
Administration Division. “And through PACER (the Public Access to Court
Electronic Records system) these briefs will be available to everyone."
Until late last year, 10 of the 12 regional appellate
courts were using an antiquated system of receiving, storing and
tracking their cases, a system that at age 20 was long overdue for
The St. Louis-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th
Circuit took a giant step in December when it became the first of those
10 courts to go live with Case Management/Electronic Case Files
(CM/ECF). The rest are to follow by the end of 2007.
"It’s a complete change in the way we do business,”
said 8th Circuit Clerk of Court Michael Gans. “We had to rethink all
procedural strategies, and spent months training people and testing
systems. Our staff worked in concert with AO people in Washington and
How did it work? "I think it’s gone very well," Gans
reported. "The first few days were a challenge but we have not fallen
behind in our work. Defining operational issues and quality control is
an ongoing process."
Nearly all federal district and bankruptcy courts have
had a head-start in using CM/ECF. Nationwide, nearly 27 million cases
are on CM/ECF systems that provide case file documents in electronic
format and accept filings over the Internet.
Most district and bankruptcy courts with CM/ECF accept
electronic filings, and more than 250,000 lawyers and others have filed
documents over the Internet to date. The 8th Circuit court, which until
December had been making do with the aged Appellate Information
Management System (AIMS), started with CM only, but hopes to begin
accepting electronic filings soon.
The court is working with the AO’s Systems Deployment
and Support Division in San Antonio to develop online electronic
training for attorneys and paralegals.
Electronic filing likely will be offered by most
appellate courts about six months after a court goes live on this new CM
system, Bowden said. Periodic general enhancements will be driven by
internal and external feedback, he added.
Among the other regional appellate courts, only those
for the 2nd and 11th Circuits have legacy systems newer than AIMS. Those
two courts are expected to make the CM/ECF conversion, but it probably
will not occur until sometime in 2008.
Also going live in December was the Denver-based
Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the 10th Circuit. "The majority of us in
my office didn’t sleep well the week before we went live. We were really
nervous because, despite the months of planning and testing, it is
quite a leap of faith," said BAP Clerk Barbara Schermerhorn.
Bowden said a workshop held in San Antonio in the spring
of 2005 served as a CM/ECF kickoff for appellate courts, but that two
additional update releases were delivered in 2006 to meet all promised
"All courts have been dedicating significant resources
to implementation for the past 12 to 18 months, and we are beginning to
see courts use the new CM system," he said. "The appellate court data
conversion, a major task considering there is nearly 20 years of data,
has had to be more customized than for the district and bankruptcy
courts," he said. "The court staff have been very active in testing the
system, and have been a great help to our staff in D.C. and in
The Judicial Conference has approved a set of model
local rules for e-filing, which the individual courts can modify to fit
their specific needs. Courts are likely to soon begin seeking comment on
proposed new electronic filing rules.