February 21, 2013

Chief justice says Maine courts need to enter digital age

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley says that having paper files in Maine courts is no longer quaint.

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — The chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court urged legislators Thursday "to bring the courts into the digital age," because Maine's paper-based court records system soon will need an electronic conversion that will cost millions of dollars.

In this 2012 file photo, Maine Chief Justice Leigh Saufley gestures during her annual State of the Judiciary address at the State House in Augusta, Maine. Large caseloads, aging courthouses and antiquated technology challenge the state's judicial system, but the courts are addressing those issues, she said Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

MAINE JUDICIAL BRANCH BY THE NUMBERS

• 38 courthouses

• 491 employees

• $54 million annual budget

• 140,000 cases were filed in fiscal 2011-12, plus more than 101,000 new traffic infractions

Source: Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley

"The persistence of paper files in Maine courts is no longer quaint; it is a serious impediment to the delivery of justice," Chief Justice Leigh Saufley told legislators in her annual State of the Judiciary speech.

At a news conference afterward, Saufley said, "The public expects to be able to see and hear and learn information online."

While federal court filings are available online for 8 cents per page, the state courts have no equivalent system to allow people to read or file documents electronically.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Donald Alexander said that when the state courts looked at electronic filing in 2008, "the capital cost then was $4 million," not including funding for training, personnel and other items.

Saufley said the planning phase of the e-filing court system will start in the next fiscal year without the need for new funding. After that initial design phase, Saufley said, she will work with the governor "to find a way to fund this critical investment."

"Your support will get us on the road to the new world," she said.

In advances against domestic violence, Saufley said, "Protection-from-abuse orders will soon be available electronically in law enforcement officers' cars, and can be served immediately, in the community, on the offender."

She cited figures from Attorney General Janet Mills, who watched the speech from the gallery, showing that 11 of Maine's 25 homicides in 2012 were classified as related to domestic violence.

"It will be a good year when I can stand here and report that the attorney general says no lives were taken as a result of domestic violence in the state of Maine," Saufley said.

In her speech, Saufley paid tribute to all those in the House chamber who have been jurors and introduced one who served recently, Eva Green of Waterville, who was watching from the gallery.

Green, 67, later said she was chosen as a juror on three criminal cases, one of which was dismissed and two of which resulted in verdicts of guilty.

"I was very nervous about it from the beginning," Green said, but as the cases proceeded, her interest grew. "I really enjoyed it mentally, especially deciphering how the two different lawyers tried to outsmart one another."

Saufley also spoke about good results from consolidating the district and superior court dockets in Cumberland and Penobscot counties.

"The time from initial charges to final resolution of some of the most serious cases has been cut in half," she said, adding that Somerset, Franklin, Piscataquis and Sagadahoc counties are next.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

badams@centralmaine.com

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