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Courts test out electronic filing program, streamline process

In order to modernize court functions and integrate technology into the organization of court documents, the Massachusetts Court System signed a contract on Monday to participate in an electronic filing pilot program.

Lawyers and court officials will be able to access documents through a web portal through the use of Tyler Technology Inc.’s Odyssey File & Serve software. The pilot program will include six Massachusetts courts. Two will be in the Supreme Judicial Court, one in the Appeals Court and three in trial courts.

“Technology, including e-filing, will ultimately lead to rapid and dramatic improvement in court operations and the efficiency with which we serve our judicial community and residents,” said Massachusetts Trial Court administrator Harry Spence in aMonday release. “Digital storage will save the courts, attorneys, and the public significant amounts of money, and e-filing is an important step in that direction.”

Bruce Graham, president of Tyler’s Courts & Justice Division, said the software will help Massachusetts courts make the court system more time and cost effective.

“Nationally, electronic filing and the move to digitized court documents have allowed courts to improve service to their constituents while also increasing efficiency,” he said in the release.

Daniel Medwed, a professor of law at Northeastern University, said a digital format could assist the courts in being more organized with its documents.

“I’m a fan of e-filing systems because it is both efficient and effective in many respects,” he said in an e-mail Tuesday. “Specifically, it enhances efficiency because it saves the time and potential expense of hand delivery and filing, and potentially alleviates some of the physical storage burdens for courts.”

The court e-filing program can help ease any complications that come from standard paper filing, Medwed said.

“It is effective because it makes it easier to resolve disputes regarding whether parties have complied with filing deadlines and so forth,” he said. “Assuming that the program is well-designed and secure from hacking, I am optimistic about the pilot.”

Wendy Kaplan, a professor of law at Boston University, said she finds e-filing a helpful feature for the court system.

“E-filing is a positive [change] and mimics what I believe the federal court in Boston has been doing for some time,” she said. “The ability to e-file motions should make attorneys’ jobs a bit easier and certainly cuts down on the necessity to physically go into a clerk’s office to file a motion.”

At this point it is unclear exactly how the pilot will work, but it should be a positive change, Kaplan said.

“I am not familiar with how the clerk’s office will verify receipt of the e-filed motions,” she said. “Attorneys still have to provide opposing counsel with copies of motions that are filed, although presumably that, too, can be accomplished via e-mail.”

Several residents said they see the benefits to the program and are interested in how the courts will work under the pilot.

John Ployer, 72, of Boston, said although he does not know much about technology, he supports the program because of its potential to make the court system more efficient.

“I’m all for it,” he said. “I don’t really see any negatives to it. It will make things easier and more efficient for lawyers and people of the court.”

Eliana Camacho, 31, of South Boston, said she thinks this change is long overdue and very much needed.

“I can’t imagine the high number of documents courts are keeping track of,” she said. “Condensing that all into an online program where people can easily search for the documents they’re looking for would be great. They definitely should not stop keeping backup copies of the documents, but this would be a lot easier for day-to-day things.”

Dan Fabrizi, 26, of Brighton, said while he recognizes the positives of electronic filing, he is a bit skeptical about the information being digital.

“I like the idea of less paper because that is environmentally friendly,” he said. “My only concern is if this stuff is digital form and available on the Internet, it could be accessed by anyone.”

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