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Monday, June 23, 2014

Starting July 30, some New Hampshire courts to begin testing new online filing system

CONCORD – The first vestiges of the state judicial branch’s foray into online case filings will come this summer with a pilot project at the small claims divisions Concord and Plymouth’s circuit courts.

Administrative Judge Edwin Kelley said beginning July 30, the only way to file small claims suits at the two courts will be online. When planners are satisfied software systems are performing as expected, e-Court will take over small claims divisions at the rest of the state’s 30 circuit courts. ...

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CONCORD – The first vestiges of the state judicial branch’s foray into online case filings will come this summer with a pilot project at the small claims divisions Concord and Plymouth’s circuit courts.

Administrative Judge Edwin Kelley said beginning July 30, the only way to file small claims suits at the two courts will be online. When planners are satisfied software systems are performing as expected, e-Court will take over small claims divisions at the rest of the state’s 30 circuit courts.

That process should be finished by the end of the year, Kelley said, and the next case type to go online-only should be in place statewide by Feb. 1.

Kelley said while the Concord and Plymouth rollout is dubbed a pilot program, that doesn’t mean judicial officials are still making up their minds about launching an e-Court.

“This is a pilot program in the sense that we’re testing the system,” he said. “The decision has been made to do this statewide.”

The rest of the roughly two dozen case types – including criminal, civil, marital, probate and more – will be rolled out in an as-yet undetermined order over the next three years. At that point, virtually the only paper involved in court cases will be the initial notice sent to defendants by first-class mail or delivered by the sheriff’s as is still required by law, Kelley said.

“This is an excellent step
forward,” he said. “One we start, there’s no stopping as far as we’re concerned.”

One hurdle to establishing the e-Court is access to computers. Because the system will be mandatory, litigants must file and respond to suits through a web portal on the court’s website. Court officers – lawyers, judges, etc. – will also file online-only orders, motions and other documents. The manilla folders jammed with paper judges refer to on the bench now will be replaced by laptops, Kelley said.

There may be a small window of time when access to the court files by the public is restricted after the files go online only and before officials are satisfied software systems are protecting certain confidential documents. But after that, court files throughout the state will be available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Kelley said librarians in the Concord and Plymouth areas have been brought up to speed on the project so they can help people who don’t own a computer. There will also be workstations set up at the courthouses, he said.

Planning for the e-Court began in 2010 as an outgrowth – and keynote recommendation – of the New Hampshire Judicial Branch Innovation Commission in 2011.

The state legislature has approved $5.2 million for the project so far, and the total cost is expected to be about $7.2 million, according to court officials.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).