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February 2008

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Local IT Initiatives Funded for FY 2008

Four information technology projects developed by federal court staff will receive funding in fiscal year 2008 from the Edwin L. Nelson Local IT Initiatives Grant Program. The IT grant program encourages and promotes local court technology innovations that can be shared with other courts. For FY 2008, there was a specific interest in grant proposals supporting judges' work.

Michigan Eastern Criminal Information Repository (MECIR)

The 2008 grant will allow the District Court and the Probation Office for the Eastern District of Michigan to develop the Michigan Eastern Criminal Information Repository. MECIR will replace the current manual process with a web-based application that develops the presentence reports provided to judges prior to sentencing. It also will enhance the existing automated system that creates the Judgment and Commitment order prepared by the courtroom deputy.

MECIR's centralized repository allows the extraction of case information from the Case Management system and defendant information from the Probation and Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System (PACT). Defendant information received from the U.S. Marshals Service is updated in MECIR, and automatically pushed to the PACT system. Judges, U.S. attorneys, defense counsel, and chambers staff are automatically alerted to each phase of the system. In addition, every transaction is time-stamped in the system to provide auditing of all processes and accountability.

MECIR will provide efficient data-handling, eliminate data redundancy, maximize data integrity, improve communication flow, and add flexibility in the preparation of reports and documents.

Pro Se "Three Strikes" Database

With a FY 2008 Local Initiatives grant, the Ninth and Fifth Circuits will combine their efforts to design a tracking system for all pro se prisoner-filed cases dismissed for being frivolous or malicious, or for failure to state a claim for relief. Under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(g), prisoners who have three or more such dismissals may be denied requests for future in forma pauperis funding. Pro se clerks will be able to use this database as a Judiciary-wide reference tool to screen litigants who may have accumulated "strikes" in one or more federal court districts anywhere in the country.

Currently, the Ninth Circuit has a database that went live early in 2007, and the Fifth Circuit has a tracking system, created by the Eastern District of Texas in the mid-1990s, that monitors all Fifth Circuit prisoner litigants who have filed lawsuits deemed to have been frivolous. The circuits will collaborate on requirements and user needs, and share design and technical tasks to complete the project.

Automation Trainer's Community of Practice

The District Court for the Western District of Missouri, the District Court for the District of Nebraska, and the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Wisconsin have proposed a centralized storage place for existing desk side tutorials and education programs created within the courts. In this online Community of Practice, existing training materials could be shared and local experts or knowledge sources identified. The website will provide a place to discuss training issues and trends and post web logs about current training events, in addition to serving as a clearinghouse of materials and ideas that will reduce duplication of effort and encourage collaboration.

The Local Initiatives grant will fund the purchase of server hardware; the installation and configuration of community software for resource storage, discussion forums, e-mail subscription capabilities, member profiles and blogs; and the migration of the existing community data to the Judiciary's secure Data Communications Network.

FAS4T Security Profile/Court Inventory Application

The District Court for the Northern District of New York, and the district's Office of Probation will receive a grant in FY 2008 to expand the capabilities of an automated inventory database application and a program that would generate self-populating FAS4T security profiles for all FAS4T users. Both the database and program were originally funded by a FY 2006 Local Initiatives IT grant. Currently, 73 court units use the inventory database application.

Enhancements to the applications, prompted by court requests, include PDA functionality, an inventory import tool, an updated documentation and installation package, a comprehensive audit of all FAS4T users based upon assignment of authorities and roles, an ability to audit internal controls based upon duties not captured within FAS4T; tracking of audit histories with details on what issues were discovered and how they were resolved; and auditing by court unit type. The additional grant will allow the Northern District to build upon the initial success of the project and significantly enhance capabilities.