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Court strong, saving trees — thanks to eCourtMN

The state of the judicial branch strong, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea reported in her annual address to the legal community from the Minnesota State Bar Association convention on June 16, 2017.

It’s also bright green, thanks to the implementation of efiling, which now consists of an average of 284,000 documents per month—the equivalent of a stack of paper 24 stories tall.

In 2012 the judicial branch launched eCourtMN in order to move from paper-based court files to electronic records. It established eFiling and eService, giving parties and lawyers the ability to file and serve documents electronically through an online portal. It became mandatory for most court users on July 1, 2016. (See accompanying chart for eFiling statistics.)

ECharging and eCitations also became mandatory on July 1, 2016. The eCharging system allows prosecutors to file complaints electronically and the eCitation system automatically transfers citation information entered into a squad car computer to law enforcement and court databases.

Electronic search warrant applications and judge signing processes are coming up on the cyber horizon. The system allows law enforcement agencies to submit warrant applications through an electronic portal, which judges then use to review the application and, if appropriate, sign and return the warrant to the requesting officer. At the end of 2016, this technology was being used on a pilot basis, with the goal of expanding eSearch Warrants statewide in 2017.

A critical part of eCourtMN is still under construction, and that is remote access to documents online, Gildea said. When completed, most court documents will be accessible online from remote locations but the process is painstaking because the security concerns are vital, she said. “I’m as anxious as I know you are but it’s more important we get it done right,” Gildea said. Everything that lands on the internet is there forever, Gildea noted, displaying a picture of Abraham Lincoln with the quote, “The internet is forever.”

The primacy of security and privilege concerns is why attorneys must come to know and love the Registered User Guide for Electronic Filing available at mn.courts.gov, Gildea said.

The eFS System requires filers to designate documents as public, confidential, or sealed in a required comment field upon filing, and to check a box acknowledging they are aware of this legal requirement (General Rule of Practice 14.06). Filers must redact or segregate non-public information into a special confidential form as required by Minnesota General Rule of Practice 11.

Referring to the importance of security and privilege to clients, Gildea hinted (strongly) that attorneys should not expect much slack from judges when these rules are violated.

The judicial branch is also pursuing increased efficiency by moving some functions from high-volume courts to more rural courts, which will allow the state to keep those courthouse doors open and staffed, Gildea said.  It will also allow staff to specialize and maintain consistency across county lines, Gildea said.

The judicial branch also intends to increase courthouse security with $1 million allocated in 2016 for the Safe and Secure Courthouse Initiative (although $3.5 million was requested).   Counties and other local government entities that maintain court facilities were eligible to apply, and grants can be used to help pay for security equipment, training, assessments, or other projects that improve the safety and security of a court facility. The requesting entities must have demonstrated a 50 percent cash or in-kind match from non-state sources.

Applications for those funds are under review and the distribution will be announced in June, Gildea said.  Noting that the grant is a fraction of the need, she said, “It is my intention to continue to press this issue.”

But Gildea emphasized that the judicial branch did well at the Legislature this year. The chief justice made a rare personal appearance before the legislative conference committee to push for her budget after the initial House and Senate amounts were lower than she and the governor requested. (See accompanying table for budget allocations.)

When it comes to legislative action, few things are black and white, the chief justice said. The court’s budget request could have ended up warranting any reaction from pitchfork protests to a ticker tape parade, she said. “Thankfully it was closer to ticker tape.”

Judicial budget — 2017 request and funding
(Numbers in hundred thousands)

Request Funded
Judge Compensation and Health Care Costs 8,003 6,196
Employee Compensation and Health Care Costs 30,169 24,267
Subtotal 38,172 30,463
Mandated Services (interpreters, psychiatric exams) 2,328 2,328
Two New District Court Judgeships 1,702 1,702
Cybersecurity Program 1,968 1,968
Treatment Court Stabilization 3,378 3,378
Subtotal 9,376 9,376
Employer share of proposed pension contribution increase 3,888 0*
Total 51,436 39,839

*The pension-related funding request was dependent on the passage of MSRS-proposed employer/employee contribution rate increases in the MSRS-General plan. There were no employer contribution increases passed into law this session, which negated the need for this funding.

Raw data:  Documents e-filed
The dotted line is a linear trend line


Source: State Court Administration

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