Budd appeals for help to bring the justice system into the digital age | News

Kimberly Budd, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court

A $164 million bond bill designed to modernize the court system’s IT infrastructure ‘would change the way judges and courts do their jobs for years to come,’ the Supreme Court chief justice says Justice Kimberly Budd (top center) to the Bail Committee during a hearing on Tuesday. .

Security systems in state courthouses are “degraded”. Judges often wait three or four minutes for digital files to load when working on cases. And most state court buildings have about a tenth the internet bandwidth of the average Bay Stater home, which slows down work when only a few employees are on Zoom.

Senior court officials highlighted those concerns on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to approve a spending spree aimed at modernizing how Massachusetts residents access justice and how judges, clerks and other court workers perform their work.

They threw their support behind a $164 million bond bill (H 4499), which judges ruled five months ago needs to be signed into law quickly and is now awaiting further consideration before its second legislative panel.

“The improvements this would provide would change the way judges and courts do their jobs for years to come,” Supreme Court Justice Chief Justice Kimberly Budd told the Joint Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets. Committee.

“We haven’t invested in our infrastructure for a long time, and we really need to upgrade,” Budd added later.

The legislation would fund a series of infrastructure and workflow improvements in the court system through 2029, with the largest portion, $94 million, going towards the creation of “digital courthouses,” 35 million for technology upgrades and an additional $35 million for physical and digital security enhancements. .

An SJC spokesperson said the bill would represent the first technology bond bill for the state’s court system since 1997.

The committee’s co-chair, Rep. Danielle Gregoire, said Tuesday she hoped to see the bill go to the House floor for a vote “with all haste.”

His panel has yet to act on Gov. Charlie Baker’s nearly $5 billion General Government Bond Bill (H 4336), which got a hearing in February, and he could soon be tasked with Review Baker’s $9.7 Billion Transportation Infrastructure Bond Bill (H 4561).

“We have important bond bills before us,” Gregoire, a Democrat from Marlborough, told judicial officials. “We have our hands full, and quite frankly, it appears that the amount of money you are seeking in this bond is very reasonable and well planned. I want to move quickly and we hope to get it to the bottom with the President’s help. day as soon as possible.”

Priorities would include overhauling the courts’ content management systems, planning for the replacement of the MassCourts website for the public and lawyers, enhancing building and digital security and expanding courthouse Wi-Fi. justice.

Overall, the legislation would provide for a “modernization” of the state’s court system, Director of Court Information Steven Duncan said during Tuesday’s hearing.

“In the past, the justice system, we’ve had a patchwork of different technologies, where we’ve tried different things without holistically looking at how well those things interact and work together,” Duncan said. “We’re really trying to move from this patchwork of technologies to a transformation to improve the user experience, the digital courthouse and the courtroom, to make things work more efficiently, and to have that really supported by digital security as well as physical security and operational excellence.”

Six of the state’s seven court divisions have expanded e-filing options, but Duncan said clerks still need to print digital versions of documents and “go back to the paper process” as cases move forward. This creates ripple effects on lawyers, who are under increased pressure to submit documents earlier so courts have enough time to convert them to paper, according to Duncan.

“While we support the electronic record, as one of the assistant administrators of the court mentioned, we really collect electronic documents, not electronic filings, because we have to go back to paper once we have actually obtained this filing .in,” Duncan said. “What we’re trying to achieve is a real electronic record where everything is electronic: things come in electronically or on paper, we turn that into an electronic record, and then everything in Throughout the life of this case, from the clerk to the docket for the judge to review the documents, they remain in electronic form and do not need to be printed. »

He also warned that security is a major area of ​​concern. The judiciary is “far behind” in ensuring the security of digital court systems, Bello said, and physical courthouse protections such as intrusion detection and cameras are insufficient.

“Most of these systems have degraded and are outdated and certainly do not give our security department the best tools to ensure that judges as well as court users, court visitors, are safe when they come to visit the courthouse,” Bello said.

Judicial leaders first approved a $164 million bond bill to fund overdue improvements during the 2019-20 legislative session, but neither the House nor the Senate put the issue to a vote. .

Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham and former Rep. Sheila Harrington of Groton – who resigned in February to take up a new position in the court system as clerk magistrate of the Gardner District Court – reintroduced the bill this session.

For trial court administrator John Bello, the wait hasn’t been entirely negative: In the meantime, he told lawmakers on Tuesday, the judiciary has been forced to “relaunch” some initiatives technology to respond to the pandemic.

“This delay has a good positive side: we are actually in a better technological position today than two years ago,” Bello said. “The pandemic has demonstrated like nothing else the importance of technology to individuals’ ability to access the justice system, physically or virtually.”

Many hearings over the past two years have taken place via Zoom, with lawyers and litigants able to participate without leaving their homes or offices. Remote options have also made interpreting services more available to those with limited English proficiency.

Budd said the COVID-related changes have proven that digital platforms are “essential” to providing equitable access to justice for all Massachusetts residents. Now she wants the state to strengthen its court infrastructure to continue to “enable people to get to the courts without having to take time off work, without having to worry about how they’re going to get there.”

“One of the things we’ve seen during the pandemic is that people don’t necessarily have to come in to be served by the court system,” Budd said.

In October, Budd and other senior court officials urged the Judiciary Committee to move the legislation forward quickly. That panel recommended the latest iteration on March 1, and the House pushed back the deadline for reporting to the Liaison Committee until May 13.

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