Bar News - February 18, 2015
Court News: Guardianship Cases to Move Online this Spring
By: Kristen Senz
The NH e-Court Project is slowly eliminating paper files from the state’s justice system. Guardianship cases and plea-by-mail motor vehicle tickets are the next case types to move online, followed by Superior Court civil cases later this year.
Guardianship cases for juveniles and incapacitated people will become paperless in Brentwood and Laconia starting in May, according to Senior Circuit Court Administrator Gina Belmont.
It’s unclear how long the two-court pilot program will last before electronic case processing is rolled out for guardianship cases across the state, Belmont said, “but it won’t be as long as what we had for small claims. Ideally, we will have guardianship rolled out statewide by the middle of June.”
There are about 2,000 guardianship cases in New Hampshire per year, Belmont said. Although the volume of total cases is relatively low, the cases often last for a decade or more, so the amount of time and paper saved over the life of each case will be significant, she said.
Establishing electronic case filing for guardianships, with the inventories and auto-calculations involved, lays the foundation for estate filings. “All of the work we’re doing now will transfer to that case type, and that’s several thousand cases per year,” Belmont said.
Civil cases in NH Superior Court are scheduled to be the next case type to move online. Court officials are working with software vendors to select and develop the interface judges will use for reviewing pleadings and deciding on motions from the bench.
Meanwhile, small claims cases – the first type to move online – that were filed electronically last summer have moved to hearings on the merits, which are now being conducted without paper files.
Starting Jan. 1, the filing fees for small claims cases increased BY $10 to $90 for cases with $5,000 or less in dispute and $145 if more than $5,000.
The court has not yet announced a new filing fee structure for other case types.
Plea-by-mail tickets issued by the NH Department of Safety also are in the process of becoming paperless. Belmont said she expects trials in those cases will become paperless in May.
All case types are scheduled to move online by June 2016.