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October 2011

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

 

Electronic Submission of CJA Vouchers in Development


It’s not quite ready, but it is coming. A national application is in development for the electronic submission, processing, approval and payment of the vouchers submitted by panel attorneys representing clients under the Criminal Justice Act (CJA). Development of the core system requirements and independent testing of the Electronic CJA Voucher Processing System (eCJA VPS) are scheduled to be completed by next summer, followed by a roll-out and testing by pilot courts. If all goes as planned, the first wave of courts will begin using the new system in January 2013.

In fiscal year 2010, the Judiciary processed 145,473 vouchers submitted through the CJA panel attorney program. Each voucher went through an approval process requiring multiple reviews and certifications, along with repeated manual entry of information and issuance of a paper check. The eCJA VPS will give courts a faster, more responsive, more efficient system to process vouchers submitted in CJA cases and more rapid payments to panel attorneys.

“There’s no good reason why voucher processing shouldn’t be brought into the 21st century, too.”

—Judge Matthew F. Kennelly (N.D. Ill.)

“The way CJA vouchers are processed now involves a lot of people sending a lot of paper all over the place,” said Judge Matthew F. Kennelly (N.D. Ill.). “When we’re working on a new generation of our Case Management/Electronic Case Files system, and most of our court procedures are electronic, there’s no good reason why voucher processing shouldn’t be brought into the 21st century, too.”

The Administrative Office’s eCJA VPS Working Group—made up of panel attorneys, appellate and district court staff, and staff from the federal defender organizations— helped identify the requirements for the eCJA VPS. Kennelly is a liaison judge to the project from the Judicial Conference Committee on Information Technology. He joined judges from the Budget, Court Administration and Case Management and Defender Services Committees who worked on the project. As a former CJA panel attorney, Kennelly brings two frames of reference to the discussion.

“A number of very dedicated people spent an enormous amount of time identifying what we wanted to have in an electronic voucher processing system,” he said. “The eCJA VPS is designed with those needs in mind.”

The online eCJA VPS system eliminates redundant data entry and errors and allows all the representation-related documents, vouchers, and orders to be viewed simultaneously by persons with authorized access. The increased visibility of vouchers better detects expenses for which attorneys may not be compensated, while giving districts the ability to monitor budgets and incorporate their own controls on expenses.

The eCJA VPS will be able to exchange data with the Case Management/ Electronic Case Files system and the Judiciary’s financial system, FAS4T. Once a CJA voucher is approved in eCJA VPS, payment information will be passed to FAS4T to electronically transfer funds directly to the attorney or expert service provider’s bank account. A planned realtime interface between the two systems would allow users to see the latest status of voucher payments.

Courts will be able to customize eCJA VPS reports with drop down filters and also select which criteria to show, such as payee, service type, representation or case history. The system will document the voucher trail, from how it was prepared, through the internal review process, and on to payment. Rate information will be posted and edits made online. Attorneys and expert service providers will be notified of submission due dates and limits on expert services, when vouchers have been received, where any adjustment may have been made, and when payment occurs. Where questions arise or clarifications are needed, the court can communicate directly with panel attorneys through eCJA VPS and receive a response. And because it will be all online, a judge will be able to approve vouchers wherever she or he has a secure computer connection.