Thursday, 31 March 2011

NH: House advances bill to require courts use open source software and open data formats

Often, the judicial branch (not individual courts, but the entire branch) is treated legislatively like a "mere" agency and directed/ordered similarly with respect to state standards and statutes. New Hampshire HB 418 is no exception:
"State agency" means any department, commission, board, institution, bureau, office, or other entity, by whatever name called, including the legislative and judicial branches of state government, established in the state constitution, statutes, or executive orders.
HB 418 would have the judiciary and other "state agencies" use open source software and open data formats for their various systems. Moreover, the legislation requires the adoption of a statewide information policy regarding open government data standards through "consultation" with the executive branch's department of information technology. The department's commissioner would develop a statewide information policy based on principles spelled out in the bill.

Possible separation of powers arguments aside, the declarations made by the "general court" (in New Hampshire, the legislature is officially called the "general court") associated with the bill are notable in their own right as other states administratively, or yes even legislatively, try to grapple with the subject:
I. The general court finds that:

(a) The cost of obtaining software for the state’s computer systems has become a significant expense to the state;

(b) The personnel costs of maintaining the software on the state’s computers has also become a significant expense to the state;

(c) It is necessary for the functioning of the state that computer data owned by the state be permanently available to the state throughout its useful life;

(d) To guarantee the succession and permanence of public data, it is necessary that the state’s accessibility to that data be independent of the goodwill of the state’s computer system suppliers and the conditions imposed by these suppliers;

(e) It is in the public interest to ensure interoperability of computer systems through the use of software and products that promote open, platform-neutral standards;

(f) It is also in the public interest that the state be free, to the greatest extent possible, of conditions imposed by parties outside the state’s control on how, and for how long, the state may use the software it has acquired; and

(g) It is not in the public interest and it is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy for the state to use software that, in addition to its stated function, also transmits data to, or allows control and modification of its systems by, parties outside of the state’s control.

II. The general court further finds that:

(a) The acquisition and widespread deployment of open source software can significantly reduce the state’s costs of obtaining and maintaining software;

(b) Open source software guarantees that its encoding of data is not tied to a single provider;

(c) Open source software enables interoperability through adherence to open, platform-neutral standards;

(d) Open source software contains no restrictions on how, or for how long, it may be used; and

(e) Since open source software fully discloses its internal operations, it can be audited, at any time and by anyone of the state’s choosing, for internal functions that are contrary to the public’s interests and rights.

III. Therefore, it is in the public interest that the state of New Hampshire consider using open source software in its public computing functions.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Online Parking Violation Resolution System and More

Quick notes from news items that appeared this week...

Online Parking Dispute Resolution System

A New York Times article published on March 22, 2011 describes a new system that allows for internet parking ticket rebuttal.  The "online alternative ... allows residents to submit written rebuttals and upload supporting materials, like snapshots of where a missing traffic sign should be, to make their case" for disputing parking tickets.  The system also allows for online payment of fines for red light and bus lane camera violations.

"Split Screen" Trial Coverage from the Press Room

CBS News notes that the US Federal Court in San Franciso is using a three video camera "split screen" for reporters to view the trial from their press room in the courthouse.  The article also notes that Chief Judge Vaughn Walker " ready to make live coverage of the (earlier) same sex marriage trial available in federal courthouses across the country - and to the nation at large that night on YouTube. These plans were scuttled by the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling that restricted coverage to the inside of the Federal Building."

US Federal Courts Reports on Smart Phones in Courthouses blogger Michael Cooney posted an interesting article titled "Should smartphones be allowed in the courthouse?" on March 28, 2011.  The article lists both pros and cons for smart phones offered by the US Federal Courts Judicial Conference Committee ( for the full report in PDF click here ).  Some of the "pro" arguments included the fact that attorneys are reliant on the technology and the use of wireless technology by stenographic court reporters.  Some "cons" were disruption by the devices "ringing" even in "silent mode" and juror use.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Chris Crawford

We here at the NCSC were sad to learn of the passing of Chris Crawford this past weekend. Chris was a giant in the court consulting and technology world first as a court manager and later as the President of Justice Served that provided assistance to courts around the world. The photo below was taken at the CTC8 conference in Kansas City, Missouri from the projection of Chris’ face on the big screen during the Super Session presentation. That session was one of the first to include live video conferencing technology. In recent years Chris' support and efforts on behalf of the Forum for the Advancement of Court Technology (FACT) were key in many successful conference presentations and in the overall progress of the organization. Chris was also well known for his annual Top 10 Court Website list. His knowledge and humor will be sorely missed. His obituary with much more on Chris published in the Eureka, California Times-Standard newspaper is available by clicking here.

Chris "on the big screen" at CTC8

Thursday, 24 March 2011

FBI Announces Next Generation Identification System

On March 08, 2011 the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation announced their next Generation Identification System (NGI), built by Lockheed Martin, delivers an incremental replacement of the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). NGI provides automated fingerprint and latent search capabilities, electronic image storage, and electronic exchange of fingerprints to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and other authorized criminal justice partners 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Upon completion, NGI will have the ability to process fingerprint transactions more effectively and accurately.

“The implementation announced today represents a tremendous achievement in enhancing our identification services. Already, we’re seeing how the NGI system is revolutionizing fingerprint identification in support of the FBI’s mission,” said Louis E. Grever, executive assistant director, FBI Science and Technology Branch.

In addition to the new fingerprint identification technology, the NGI program has also delivered Advanced Technology Workstations to the FBI’s fingerprint examiner staff. The workstations include significantly larger display screens with higher resolution and true color support, allowing staff to see more detailed attributes of biometric data for more efficient decision-making."

The project's website can be seen at:

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

CTC-2011 Keynote Speaker Announced

Prolific television writer and television personality David Pogue will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Court Technology Conference.    From his website:

“David Pogue writes the tech column for the New York Times every week, and in Scientific American every month. On TV, you may know him from his funny tech videos on CNBC every Thursday, or his stories for CBS Sunday Morning, or the NOVA miniseries he hosted on PBS, called "Making Stuff."

With over 3 million books in print, David is one of the world's bestselling how-to authors. He wrote or co-wrote seven books in the "for Dummies" series (including Macs, Magic, Opera, and Classical Music); in 1999, he launched his own series of complete, funny computer books called the Missing Manual series, which now includes 120 titles.

David graduated summa cum laude from Yale in 1985, with distinction in Music, and he spent ten years conducting and arranging Broadway musicals in New York. He's won an Emmy, a Loeb award for journalism, and an honorary doctorate in music. He's been profiled on "48 Hours" and "60 Minutes." He lives in Connecticut with his three children. His web site is”

His “short” biography does not do justice to all of his activities and interest.  The tradition of interesting and thought provoking speakers at Court Technology Conferences continues.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Courts Have Always Charged Fees

In an earlier CTB post we noted a presentation by Prof. Stephen Schultze and graduate student Tim Lee that criticized several aspects of the US Federal Courts approach to public access to court information and in particular, the fees that are charged by the PACER system.

PACER currently allows for several queries per month for no charge.  It is only when they exceed that number of queries that users are charged (a FAQ regarding PACER can be found by clicking here).   In brief, it is the presenter’s contention that all of the information should be made available to the public for free.  And they have taken action by creating the RECAP program to help in this effort.  Unfortunately, history does not support this.

The UK courts website notes on a web page, appropriately named, “Why We Charge” that the tradition of court fees reaches back “to the 13th century”.

 “Fees have always been charged to users of the courts. Originally, fees were paid directly to the judges of the courts, who kept them personally, for the work they carried out…

The County Courts Act 1846 saw the creation of the court system (mostly how we know it today) and the introduction of judicial salaries. The Act provided that court fees would cover the full cost of running the courts, and through this, the courts would be self-funding.

Court fees paid for judges, clerks, bailiffs and accommodation. However, in 1856, it was accepted that judges’ salaries, buildings and ancillary expenses should be met by the taxpayer and not the court user through fees.”

Thus history teaches that the courts were conceived to be a “fee-based-service” to the public.  And current fees in federal and state courts for filing, e-filing, and records production are in that tradition.

The financial difficulties that nearly every government currently face also severely restricts the ability of the courts to make new services such as E-filing and E-Access free to the public.  One possible reason is that it is difficult to receive funding via the legislative process because it is nearly impossible to estimate a specific return on investment (ROI).  In contrast, a private corporation can seek a loan or investment (scenes from the recent movie, “The Social Network” are particularly appropriate) to expand their business technology and hopefully make more profit.  The courts and government are asked to “prove a negative”; that by investing in technology that costs will either be maintained, decrease, or reduce staff. Since many courts have already had to reduce staff due to budget cuts, they are understandably resistant to make this promise.

That said, I don’t know anyone in the courts that wouldn’t like to make all of the public services free.    But here is the rub.  Access fees can also potentially serve as a barrier for misuse of the court information.  Some courts have experience embarrassment when they made data freely available online that in turn exposed personal information that could be used for identity theft and crimes.   A fee serves as a small barrier to those who are using the information for commercial use in credit and background checks but a significant one for those who wish to “mine” data for mischievous purpose.  And from a court’s view, allowing commercial access is not necessarily a bad thing since it shifts the search and network bandwidth load from the court’s to the private commercial systems.   In summary, an access fee for information has additional benefits to the courts aside from revenue.

Now this is not to say that information cannot be accessed for free.  Nearly every court has some type of public access terminal in the courthouse where a person can search and find information.  But online and “bulk” data poses a different set of issues that in turn cost the courts to address.  In that case, fees can be justified by need and tradition.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Court Automation Projects Critiqued

Courts automation projects can greatly benefit from receiving well-reasoned and researched critiques.   Two projects recently received such input.

California CCMS

The California Court Case Management System audit report was published by the California State Auditor in February, 2011.  The Los Angeles Times newspaper noted in an article about the report :

“The state Judicial Council and court systems have spent $407 million so far on developing the system and have installed a limited version in seven counties, including Los Angeles and Sacramento. They plan to launch the full system in three counties — Ventura, San Diego and San Luis Obispo — as a next step.”

The California AOC responded to the report noting that they will adopt all of the audit report recommendations.  Justice Terence L. Bruiniers, chairman of the Judicial Council’s CCMS Executive Committee noted:

“We have increased Judicial Council oversight of the project; expanded the participation of justices, judges, court administrators, attorneys, and justice partners; and created a project management office.”

Additional information regarding the system and reports are posted at the California AOC CCMS website:

Federal Court PACER

Prof. Stephen Schultze and graduate student, Tim Lee, of the Princeton University Center for Information Technology Policy recently made a presentation at the New York University School of Law on the US Federal Court’s online systems and specifically PACER.  The presentation was video recorded and is available for online viewing (requires Microsoft Silverlight)

The presentation made several interesting points regarding current systems:

1. Current PACER limitations
2. Document authentication
3. Lack of document and data structure (XML)
4. The proposal to allow the private (and non-profit) world access to have bulk access to the information
5. A number of problems regarding sensitive and private information made available in PACER and options for corrective action.

There were also several points made regarding automation fees and budgets require a more extensive discussion for a later CTB article.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Colorado bill would create judicial public access system advisory board

Colorado's Judiciary has had a Public Access System (PAS) and Electronic Filing System (EFS) for years. According to their website "Over the next two years, the Colorado Judicial Branch’s PAS/EFS team will build a new electronic filing system that will replace the Branch’s current e-filing vendor by January 2013."

Enter Colorado HB 1282 of 2011.

The bill specifically provides a statutory obligation for the judicial department to provide a public access system for certain court records that direct-paying users and nonpaying users can access remotely. The bill prohibits the judicial department from restricting a direct-paying user from replicating the information on its system.

The bill also creates a Judicial Public Access System Advisory Board to govern the aforementioned system. The board would set the price schedule for access by direct-paying users and approve any changes to the schedule, determine what information will be available through the system and in what form it will be available, and address any other matter relevant to the system.

The board itself would consist of 9 members, including 4 legislators, 1 office of information technology (executive branch) staff member, 2 judicial department employees, and 2 vendors. The 2 judicial department employees (one of whom would chair the board) and 2 vendors would be selected by the chief justice.

The bill is currently pending in the House State, Veterans, & Military Affairs committee.

Cross-posted to Gavel to Gavel.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Florida Judge Using SharePoint for E-Filing

On February 17, 2011 Law Technology News published an article: Fla. Judge's 'Outlook on Steroids' Blazes E-Filing Trail.  The article describes how Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Israel Reyes has been using the collaboration capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint to facilitate electronic document communications with litigants in his court.  The article also unfortunately also details the requirement for paper copies to be transmitted and filed.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Federal Courts Issue Pocket Guide for Sealed Records

The February, 2011 edition of The Third Branch newsletter from the US Federal Courts contains an interesting article titled: "Pocket Guide for Federal Judges Focuses on Sealed Records, Proceedings".  "Published by the Federal Judicial Center, the 22-page pocket guide draws upon the voluminous case law the process courts use to keep some of their proceedings and records confidential." 
The guide is available online for download in PDF (244 Kb) by clicking here

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Future is Not Paper - Part 4

Syndicated Court Calendars

Court calendaring is simply a nightmare.  But as we all know, calendars are the grease in the court's wheels.  And without the structure and schedules, the judicial process would be chaos.  But while Case Management Systems have done a good job of being able to store preferences and automatically search for the next available time based upon a jurisdiction's complex rules, these capabilities and information sharing have not extended beyond the courthouse walls.

One brief example: In 2005, the Governor of the State of New Mexico, Bill Richardson asked the legislature for additional judges partly because of scheduling issues.  The Police Sergeant in charge of DWI crime in Albuquerque, NM reported that:
"scheduling nightmares abound for officers. In a single afternoon, he's been scheduled to attend three trials and three pretrial interviews. That's problematic because arresting officers are often the only witnesses in DWI cases so many are dismissed when officers fail to appear in court. 
"I have eight officers on this unit, and they make 2,200 to 2,500 DWI arrests a year," Brown said. "When I get a (failure to appear) notice on one of them, I research it, and a lot of times I find that one officer was scheduled in 12 different courtrooms in the morning alone."(see Endnote 1)
Courts use primarily manual processes to calendar and schedule (I've even seen white boards).  The current "technologies" are:

  • The automated CMS for setup and recording the core calendar structure and scheduling events.
  • Telephone and E-mail with voice and manual negotiation by staff (calendar clerks and judicial assistants) and requesting attorneys, paralegals, and litigants.
  • Face-to-face meetings (in courtrooms, chambers, etc.) with everyone consulting their individual calendars is one of the most common ways that schedules are set.
  • And even a few courts employing instant messaging
  • All methods employ a lot of personal time and effort to communicate even the most basic information.  

But there are some interesting ideas that have been developing in recent years that could be part of a future solution.  John Udell is a "Technology Evangelist" with Microsoft Corporation and formerly a columnist with  InfoWorld and the "classic" Byte magazines as well as a person who's writings I follow closely via his blog.

In recent years he became interested in problems surrounding calendars and their inefficiency and ineffectiveness.  And this past December (2010) he gave a talk at Harvard University Law School's Berkman Center.(see Endnote 2).  The video webcast for online or download viewing can be found at:   In the talk he explains his "elmcity project" that created a web enabled community calendar supporting "information syndication".

There are a lot of ideas in that last sentence and so let's break it down:

1. Web Enabled - meaning that it can easily send and receive information using internet standards.
2. Community - meaning shared and open.
3. Information syndication - meaning you can subscribe to personally receive the information being shared in the calendar.

Now doesn't something like that sound like there are some ideas in there that might make the tortured world of court calendaring and scheduling easier?  I think so; and therefore let's continue.

Specifically as he writes in his blog post about elmcity and his Harvard talk:

  • Realize that event data published in a structured format, unlike data published as HTML or PDF, can be routed through a publication/subscription syndication networks.
  • Make public calendars available in the appropriate structured format: iCalendar (RFC 5545), the venerable Internet standard supported by all major calendar applications and services.
  • Recognize that iCalendar is the RSS of calendars. It can enable a calendar-sphere in which, as in the blogosphere, everyone can publish their own feeds and also subscribe to feeds from other people  or from network services.
  • Help build the data web by owning the parts of it for which we ourselves are the authoritative  sources.

Let's talk about this iCalendar standard.  Nearly everyone uses the iCalendar standard if you have a smart phone (like a Blackberry) that automatically connects with your Microsoft Exchange Calendar; even if you don't realize it.  This is the best kind of standard for users because you don't need to do anything, it just simply works.

But John Udell realized that it could and should do more.  As originally developed iCalendar was limited in the usual scope of implementation. An analogy might be "texting" between cell phones before Twitter.  Texting basically is one to one communications while Twitter allows the message to be sent to anyone who subscribes to the feed.  And one other fact, many of the commercial Court Case Management Systems vendors already have provided connections/extensions from the court calendar to Microsoft Exchange and/or to the iPhone/Blackberry using the iCalendar standard.

So with the "elmcity project" Mr. Udell has created an ability for the shared calendar to be fed the information from many sources and in turn, send that calendar schedule to those who subscribe.  The elmcity service is an example of what Rohit Khare memorably called syndication-oriented  architecture.  And while "elmcity" doesn't replace the court's CMS calendar, it provides a concept for a web service that extends and facilitates calendaring information sharing via the web.  And in another article Mr. Udell explains how one can manage their private and public calendars together. Again, doesn't this sounds a lot like what courts do every day?

He has published an extensive FAQ about the elmcity project at:

And as mentioned above, to see some elmcity calendars that have already been created go to:

Therefore in summary, there is a standard, iCalendar that allows for scheduling information to be created and shared.  The elmcity project provides for subscription and syndication of that information to those who choose to receive it.

Much more discussion to come?

1) Retrieved from: in 2009 from an Associated Press article published on January 17, 2005 titled: Richardson pledges more judgeships, more funding for prosecutors at DWI summit.

2) We here at the NCSC are long time admirers of the Berkman Center staff having hosted two keynote speakers at Court Technology Conferences, Prof. Jonathan Zittrain in 1999 and Prof. Charles Ogletree in 2001.

Maine: One sentence bill directs judicial branch to upgrade its computer system

Typically legislation related to a state judiciary's computer system(s) are parts of budget bills or sections of other non-appropriations bills related to the judiciary. Maine's HB 644 of 2011, however, may go on record as the single shortest and most direct piece of legislation on the matter ever.

Below is the sum total of the bill (formatting in original):

Resolve, To Streamline the Judicial Process in Maine's Courts

Sec. 1. Judicial Department to upgrade its computer system. Resolved: That the Judicial Department shall design and implement a plan to upgrade its computer system to ensure access by Maine citizens and attorneys to electronic filing and scheduling online.

The bill's summary is almost as long as the bill itself:

This resolve directs the Judicial Department to design and implement a plan to upgrade its computer system to ensure access by Maine citizens and attorneys to electronic filing and scheduling online.

The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee, but presumably it would be sent to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Interesting note: Maine is one of three states (Connecticut and Massachusetts are the others) that rely primarily on joint judiciary committees.

Cross-posted to Gavel to Gavel.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Colorado: Bill would require *private* companies that maintain criminal court records purge their data when court orders records sealed

It is somewhat of a truism that nothing is ever truly lost or forgotten on the internet. Colorado's HB 1203 of 2011, as passed by the state's House on February 23, looks to put the genie somewhat back in the bottle.

Under CRS 24-72-308, if a Colorado State court orders a criminal record sealed, "each custodian of the records" must seal the record. But "custodian" is limited to "the official custodian or any authorized person having personal custody and control of the criminal justice records in question." Private companies are therefore not included.

HB 1203 keeps the existing definition of "custodian" but defines a "private custodian" as "a private entity that has custody of the information and provides that information to others as a part of its business." These "private custodians" would also be subject to court orders requiring the sealing of criminal records. After being served with a copy of the order, the private custodian "shall remove the records that are subject to [the] order from its database."

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Indiana: Floor amendment to unrelated bill would require courts provide bulk data

Courts have been contending with how to handle bulk data requests for years. Recently, however, efforts in Arizona and other states have sought to bypass the courts and mandate the disbursement by legislative act. The most recent example is in Indiana.

SB 561, as introduced, dealt with corrections and sentencing. A floor amendment, added on February 21 however, requires the division of state court administration to implement a standard program for disseminating bulk court case information for a reasonable fee. Moreover, the bill requires an executive branch agency (the Indiana Office of Technology) annually certify that case management systems operated or funded by the division of state court administration comply with this program.

Finally, while the amendment allows for the charging of "a reasonable fee" it defines "reasonable" as "not [to] exceed the direct cost of operating the export program and delivering data to the recipient plus a prorated fee to recoup the direct costs of developing the export program. In any one (1) year, the aggregate prorated fees charged under this subdivision may not exceed five percent (5%) of the direct costs of developing the export program."

The bill, as amended, was approved by the full Senate 2/22/11 and is currently in the House awaiting committee assignment.

Cross-posted to Gavel to Gavel.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Florida: Frustration over inability to come up with privacy rules for online court records

In 2003, the Florida Supreme Court created a Committee on Privacy and Court Records with the laudable goal of set policies of the information available on court records in general, and electronically accessible records in particular (read the order creating the committee here).

Eight years later the debate continues, much to the chagrin of Justice Barbara Pariente who has asked committee members to "get on the stick and get the rest done." According to The Lakeland Ledger, the committee has only now "proposed rules for excluding personal information such as Social Security and credit card numbers from court files if not required to resolve or manage cases. Criminal and traffic cases, though, would be exempt as committees for those two segments of the judicial system have yet to submit recommendations for removing personal information from case filings." Questions about the use or entire (or partial) Social Security Numbers, names of minors, and the sheer volume of data involved continue to plague the committee.