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April 2010

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


Local IT Initiatives Receive Grants

Five local court projects have been awarded grants for fiscal year 2010 through the Edwin L. Nelson Local Initiatives Program. The program supports the development of local technology innovations that can be shared with other courts. For 2010, the Judiciary’s Judicial Conference Committee on Information Technology, which approved the award grants, was particularly interested in proposals addressing IT solutions that help chambers and support training for the entire court community.

The five court IT initiatives are:

The Jury Evidence Recording System (JERS)
The grant funds a collaborative IT initiative of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, which developed JERS, with the U.S. District Courts for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the District of South Carolina, and the Northern District of Indiana in the continued development and improvement of the JERS application. The district courts will serve as pilot courts for JERS’ final testing phase.

JERS captures electronic presentations of evidence and exhibits from the courtroom and makes the information available in the jury deliberation room through a touch-screen kiosk. Jurors can quickly and easily retrieve information presented during the trial, eliminating return trips to the courtroom. They can view exhibits repeatedly, zoom in on photos, and scroll through documents. At the end of a trial, the electronic collection of exhibits can be archived by the court, with copies to the parties for use in post-trial litigation.

The ESP-Web System
A 2007 grant funded the migration of the Electronic Scheduling Program (ESP) system from a desktop to a web-based application. Now a 2010 grant funds the development of its final modules, and provides training and support during deployment of the ESP-Web System. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas will work with the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts of Oregon and the Southern District of Florida to complete the system, which will provide a single web interface through the Case Management/Electronic Case Files System for setting, resetting, continuing, and editing hearings, as well as for viewing calendars, adding case and hearing notes, and appointments.

ESP also has the ability to display hearing calendars, personal calendars, and hearing notes on handheld devices such as Blackberries and iPhones. Both internal and external calendar reports in ESPWeb are real time and searchable.

The Space and Facilities Management Software System
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, with pilot courts in the Northern District of New York and the Sixth and Tenth Circuits, has received a grant to facilitate the development, testing, and roll-out of a system to support real property inventory management and related, on-going cyclical maintenance of space. This initiative will leverage the existing technology capabilities of the Facilities Program Management (FPM) module, which is part of the overall space management portion of the national JFACTS 2.0 system. In the second phase of the project, an integrated facilities and project management database will be developed, based on the FPM module. This new module will integrate with computer-aided design software and the inventory database developed by the Northern District of New York, to tie asset inventory directly to space drawings, and link project information with drawings.

Grouping all space and facilities management information, files and projects together, and linking them in a computerized data set using facilities management software will allow a variety of reports to be produced, eliminate repetitive input of data, and streamline planning and budgeting.

Tech Tips for Judges
Since 2008, the Fifth Circuit, working with the Systems Deployment and Support Division, has produced Tech Tips for Judges as a way to provide clear and relevant technical information and automation training through email. The information and training is presented judge-to-judge. This focus has proved to be very successful. The circuit calls upon technology experts to assist with the technical aspects, but the topics, the edits and the final Tech Tips emails are produced by the circuit.

With the 2010 grant, the circuit can continue and expand the project by hiring a part-time program manager, who will ensure timely publication of email tips, and who will explore other communication tools to deliver training and information to judges. By the end of the grant period, the Fifth Circuit hopes to be able to recommend the best approach for making Tech Tips for Judges available nationwide.

The Crime Victim Restitution System—VRU.net
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas recognizes a court’s need to manage information regarding payment details and current addresses for victim restitution payments. The 2010 grant would fund the development of a secure web application where crime victims can update their bank account information if they choose to receive e-payments or their current address if they wish restitution payments to be mailed to them. Financial balances such as the court-ordered amount of restitution, the amount paid, the balance pending, and the payment history could also be viewed. Once verified and approved by the court, the crime victims’ information would be updated overnight to FAS4T, the Judiciary’s automated financial management database.

District courts spend considerable time managing information to support monthly distribution of checks to crime victims. VRU.net is intended to be a national program, available to all courts using FAS4T/CCAM. The Northern District of Texas will work with the U.S. District Courts for the Southern District of Texas, South Carolina and Northern Florida, as well as with the AO, to develop this system.