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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.


New Jersey E-Filing Forum Big Draw for Attorneys

It only took a day for 400 attorneys to fill every available spot for two forums hosted by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. What topic proved so appealing? The Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system.

The New Jersey district court hosted Attorney Electronic Filing Forums in January and February, extending invitations to all registered CM/ECF system filers and their staff. The draw was the opportunity to talk with judges and clerk’s office staff and get the latest on e-filing topics, including the court’s new e-transcript policy and local rules.

“Five years ago, the District of New Jersey launched the CM/ECF system,” Chief Judge Garrett E. Brown told forum participants. “This was a new program for us. It was also a time of some uneasiness and uncertainty as we contemplated how our staff and the bar would adjust to this system … As we enter our 6th year, I am pleased to report that CM/ECF is a much improved application … It continues to evolve in order to meet the court’s needs and the needs of our users, with more new releases planned.”

Currently the district has more than 14,500 registered users, with thousands of cases and documents available on-line.

“CM/ECF evolves and new lawyers begin practicing in the district, so the need for training is ongoing,” said Chief Deputy Clerk James Murphy, Jr. The district clerk’s office is highly proactive, going out to law firms or conducting e-filing training at the court for attorneys. For 2009, the court tried a forum format to reach the largest possible number of users.

“The forums were more updates than initial-user training,” said Murphy. “We walked attendees through the e-filing of transcripts. Our management information system and systems directors took them on a tour of user interfaces and utilities. Our quality control director did a PowerPoint presentation on the top 10 mistakes in using CM/ECF, and our financial manager talked about when and why charges occur and how errors are remedied.”

And when the topic turned to electronic filings and transcripts, Murphy and other panel members spoke about the Federal Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure, which require the redaction of personal identifiers. They particularly noted that the redaction of personal data identifiers rests solely with counsel and the parties.

The District of New Jersey delivered the message on redaction to attorneys during a legal education program, but courts also are stressing the rules’ redaction requirements by posting notifications on CM/ECF log-in screens and in the clerk’s office, and through court newsletters and list servers.

In her talk to forum participants, Magistrate Judge Tonianne J. Bongiovanni covered protective orders and public access to records under CM/ECF, and addressed attorneys’ concerns about e-filing preserving confidentiality.

“Not everyone has grown up with a computer and not every attorney is comfortable with a system like CM/ECF,” Bongiovanni said. “Attorneys are concerned with whether their client’s information is being sealed. They worry whether a brief won’t be filed in time because they didn’t hit the right button. The clerk’s office is sensitive to these issues and understands the need to educate the bar, and strives to make the system as user friendly as possible. I really applaud their efforts. The forums have given attorneys access to folks who will help them use the system most efficiently.”

Underscoring the information-intensive nature of the forums, attorneys from not only New Jersey, but also Pennsylvania and New York can receive continuing legal education credit for their attendance.

“We put a lot of emphasis on continuing education and we talked about federal and local rules, which the attorneys appreciated,” said Murphy. “But it was also an opportunity for them to ask questions and get to know our staff.”

That the effort was appreciated was clear from the positive feedback from participants. “We played to a packed audience,” said Bongiovanni, “and I was happy to hear people say how delighted, enlightened—and less afraid—they were. It’s really all about customer service.”