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May 2008

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


Majority of Courts of Appeals Now Live with CM/ECF

The Eighth Circuit became the first court of appeals to go live with the case management component of the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system in December 2006, and as of March 2008, eight of the 12 regional courts of appeals have followed suit for a total of nine. The Third Circuit went live in February, the Ninth Circuit and the DC Circuit in early March, and the First and Seventh Circuits began using CM/ECF on March 31st. The Fifth, Eleventh and Second Circuit are expected to implement CM in the future.

So far just the Fourth and the Eighth Circuit Courts of Appeals have adopted the ECF component of CM/ECF.

“That doesn’t mean the remaining courts of appeals on CM/ECF don’t make use of electronic documents,” said Gary Bowden, Chief of the Appellate Courts and Circuit Administration Division at the Administrative Office. “They’re just not being filed through the system. Several courts have documents accessible to the court and public in electronic form and we expect this will continue to increase in coming months.”

The nine courts of appeals join the district courts, the bankruptcy courts, the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims, in using the CM/ECF system.

With all the bankruptcy and district courts involved, the courts of appeals stand to benefit from the experience of attorneys who already use and are familiar with CM/ECF at the local level.

With CM/ECF implementation in the courts of appeals comes the bonus of centralized registration service for attorneys. Attorneys are able to register with the PACER Service Center, http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/, choose the courts where they want to file cases, and have one ID and password for them all.

Moving to the CM/ECF system involves preparing the office for a new operational system, including changing the way documents are moved through the court for review and decision. But the new system reduces workload, particularly when it comes to the burden and expense of paper copies. One feature recently added to district court CM/ECF allows the compilation of all documents in a district case into a single PDF file that is indexed and searchable.

“That was formerly a sizeable stack of paper,” said Bowden, “that’s now electronic. And unlike paper copies that have to be painfully copied or moved along with a case, an electronic copy is available to a panel of judges, attorneys and court staff simultaneously.” Appellate judges and staff also are making greater use of individual electronic documents filed in the district and bankruptcy courts when a complete record is not required or available.

There is a limit to how much CM/ECF can reduce workload—at least at the appellate level. Approximately, 45 percent of all court of appeals cases are pro se, a group of cases that typically can’t or won’t be filed electronically. “This means a lot of scanning will be done by court staff in order to have complete electronic cases, which will limit the workload reduction that could be expected with just attorneys filing cases,” said Bowden.

The next highly anticipated improvement to the current system will be available in Release 2.1 of CM/ECF, provided to the courts in October 2008. One new feature will be the availability of full text searches. “Within a court, you’ll be able to search all documents and docket text,” said Bowden. “This final bit of functionality makes CM/ECF complete. Well, at least until the next innovation is identified. ”