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May 2006

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


Ten Courts of Appeals Move to CM/ECF

The district courts are doing it. The bankruptcy courts have already done it. Now it’s the turn of the federal courts of appeals.

Ten of the 13 courts of appeals are participating in the Judiciary’s national rollout of the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system that is now in use in 89 district courts, 92 bankruptcy courts, the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims. Unlike those courts, the courts of appeals are still in the implementation stage, which began in 2005. During this time, functions have been added and kinks subtracted. Says Gary Bowden, chief of the Administrative Office’s Appellate Court and Circuit Administration Division, “The 10 courts of appeals are making steady progress and we expect the first courts to go live with the CM/ECF system by late 2006 or early 2007.”

According to Bowden, this is the first time the AO has provided a national application supporting the courts of appeals, including clerks’ offices, staff attorneys, and circuit mediation programs, which historically each have had separate systems.

The Second, Eleventh, and Federal Circuits, which support their own unique case management systems, are not implementing CM/ECF at this time, but future transfer to the system is a strong possibility in the Second and Eleventh Circuits.

“The rollout of CM/ECF to the more than 90 district and bankruptcy courts, was done in waves with prototypes and pilot courts,” said Bowden. “But with only 10 courts of appeals participating, the distribution is a little different. A preliminary version of the CM/ECF system is rolling out to all the courts at the same time.”

The version the appellate courts receive is relatively complete, but up-dates and functionality will continue to be added as users gain familiarity with the system and suggest improvements. The final version will be distributed to the courts in July 2006.

Development of the CM/ECF system for the courts of appeals has been a cooperative effort between the Administrative Office and the courts.

“There were few enough courts, so that we could involve them heavily in developing and testing the system, and providing feedback to the AO,” said Bowden. “It’s a product of their close involvement.”

In the Eighth Circuit, Clerk of Court Michael Gans and his staff tested how well data on the existing Appellate Information Management system would transfer to the CM/ECF system.

“The AO asked us to take the lead,” said Gans, “and we worked with the Systems Deployment and Support Division in San Antonio and the CM/ECF development team to verify the conversion process. Other courts will follow along.”

“Before courts go live with CM/ECF,” explained Project Director Gary Bockweg in the AO’s Office of Court Administration, “they work with a version of the system that will let them build their event dictionaries, experiment with local reports, train staff, and let their automation people see how the system works on their server.”

Although Clerk of Court Marcia Waldron, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, has worked with CM/ECF for only a few months, she anticipates certain efficiencies.

“Appeals can be, by their nature, paper-intensive,” Waldron explains. “With most case-related papers stored electronically in the system and readily accessible, I expect CM/ECF to save us time.”

The CM/ECF implementation is welcome news for the courts. “The old case management systems used by the courts of appeals,” said Bockweg, “were built in the early 1980s. Their components — both the hardware and operating systems — were no longer supported by vendors. The point had been reached where new software wasn’t compatible with old hardware and the old system was becoming too expensive to maintain. The changeover to the new CM/ECF is a matter of modernization.”

As of May 2006, more than 26 million cases are on CM/ECF systems, and 230,000 attorneys and others have filed documents over the Internet. In fiscal year 2005, over 68,473 appeals were filed in the courts of appeals, where filings have increased nearly 32 percent in the last decade.