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April 2009

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

 

Innovative IT Programs Link Automation with Court Business Processes


Four innovative information technology (IT) projects for the federal courts will be funded by the Edwin L. Nelson Local Initiatives Program for fiscal year 2009. The projects provide capabilities not currently available through a national IT product and involve collaboration between two or more courts.

All projects funded in this and past years are available for use by any federal court on Ed’s Place, a Judiciary intranet website designed to host locally developed applications, as well as to promote collaborations in support of new application development, and reduce duplication of those efforts. Named for the late Judge Edwin L. Nelson, Ed’s Place supports court awareness and sharing of what is being done throughout the Judiciary to link automation with court unit business processes.

Grant requests from the courts are reviewed by the IT Advisory Council, whose recommendations are considered by the Judicial Conference Committee on Information Technology. Judge Francis Allegra (Ct. of Fed. Claims) chairs the IT Committee’s Local Initiatives Subcommittee. “Our goal is to empower, to give the people developing IT solutions the tools they need, while streamlining the process so that projects can move more quickly from a local to a national application,” said Allegra. “Funding is critical. We can’t expect the individual courts to take on the entire job of product development. We provide the additional funding that hopefully can help make a product usable by a substantial number of courts.”

FY 2009 grants particularly encourage IT solutions that will help chambers and support training efforts, and this direction continues for FY 2010. Courts interested in funding for FY 2010 may submit grant proposals to the Office of Information Technology at the Administrative Office no later than May 15, 2009.

Funding for the following projects was approved for FY 2009:

ECF Central

The U.S. Bankruptcy and District Courts for the Northern District of Florida and the Southern District of Alabama will jointly develop a web-based application to implement a toolbar to provide users of the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system with case alerts and reminders; important messages and announcements; customizable court calendar information; an order submission portal; help desk messaging; and a library of helpful contacts, documentation, filing guidelines, and instructional videos. The toolbar would be displayed on demand while the user is logged into the CM/ECF system. An early version of the application was created by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Florida and the final version will be the product of a multi-court collaboration.

CM/ECF shifted the burden for entering the information for a thorough, accurate, and timely record of court filings from experienced court employees to external users. ECF Central will improve the accuracy of this user-entered information by giving easy access to ECF documentation, tutorials, and instant messaging access to the ECF Help Desk. Court employees will spend less time editing case information and correcting errors.

Violations Database

The U.S. Probation Offices of the Middle District of Florida, District of Puerto Rico, and the Southern District of Florida are collaborating to create a database/data entry form to be used whenever a probation officer prepares a probation violation report. The database will work with and draw sentencing information from the Probation/Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System. The probation officer would begin the process by entering some basic information into a data entry form. The information then would be automatically transferred to the petition and to a memorandum to the court. Based on the information entered, the violations database will be able to insert the statutory provision and calculate the sentencing guideline provisions. A module also will capture statistical data on types of petitions filed, nature of violations filed, outcome of the violation filed, etc.

Web Design/Content Management System

The U.S. Bankruptcy Courts for the District of New Jersey, the District of Delaware, and the Eastern and Western Districts of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. District Courts for the Middle and Western Districts of Pennsylvania are cooperating to develop an information-rich and flexible website design with a supporting content management system. The website will function as a template for other courts to use without the need to duplicate effort or expend resources. The content management system will be used to create a framework for a court’s website content, including computer and audio files, image media, and electronic documents. It will allow selected non-technical staff to directly manage the entire site, adding announcements, loading forms, and updating information without the need for programming or specific IT support. This will reduce the amount of time and resources it takes to manage a site day to day.

CVB Case Management System

The U.S. District Courts for the District of Maryland and the Western District of Louisiana are working together on a project that will enhance and automate how district courts process Central Violation Bureau cases, a process that is largely manual, paper-intensive, and error-prone. Nationally, 100,724 cases were processed in FY 2008 by the district courts, comprising approximately 600,000 citations.

The District of Maryland currently uses an automated system to assist in processing cases, and a new enhanced system will be based on it. The CVB Case Management System will interface with the CVB database and provide an integrated, secure, web-based, database-driven solution for managing CVB cases by district courts.