Bar News - February 15, 2017
NH e-Court Project Has New Director, New Plans
By: Kristen Senz
“After a year in Boston, I am delighted to be returning to New Hampshire to continue my work on the NH e-Court Project, as I’m a passionate supporter of its ‘access to justice’ vision.”
– Jackie Waters
NH e-Court Project Director
NH Judicial Branch
Attorneys can expect the pace of the NH e-Court Project to pick up in 2017, now that a new project director has been hired and a revised project plan calls for electronic filing of NH Supreme Court cases to start later this year, following estates.
Jackie Waters, who started as NH e-Court Project director at the NH Judicial Branch last month, worked on the NH e-Court Project on a contract basis from 2012 to 2016, when she moved to Massachusetts to assist in setting up the Massachusetts Health Insurance Exchange. She has more than 15 years of experience in operations and management of information technology projects in state government and healthcare.
“Where I focus my efforts is on vendor procurement and vendor management,” said Waters, who plans to move back to New Hampshire by March 1. “After a year in Boston, I am delighted to be returning to New Hampshire to continue my work on the NH e-Court Project, as I’m a passionate supporter of its ‘access to justice’ vision.”
Waters said the project and the court’s vendor relationships seem to be on solid footing as the project moves toward bringing the filing of estates online in May. Last year, Gina Belmont, senior NH Circuit Court administrator, stepped into the role of project director on a temporary basis. Belmont, who plans to transition back to her administrative role while remaining involved with the project, said she looks forward to working with Waters again.
“She’s incredibly knowledgeable,” Belmont said. “She has both an IT background and an ability to understand what the court needs.”
Belmont said 2017 will be a busy year for the project.
“We have so much happening in 2017. We have estates going live in May, which is massive, because it’s not only every new estate, but there is also a dramatic centralization going on with that case type. We also have party access, which will enable attorneys and self-represented parties to remotely view their cases. That will happen a few months after estates, after a necessary upgrade to the trial courts’ case management system Odyssey. And we are continuing work on the judicial bench software module, and the Supreme Court.”
The project plan previously called for domestic violence and stalking cases to follow estates into the e-filing system. However, concerns about overcrowding the court’s software testing environment and the consecutive roll-out of four Circuit Court case types led court officials to tack toward Supreme Court cases instead.
NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis said she’s “delighted” that Supreme Court cases will move to electronic filing this year. The change will deliver seamlessness to litigants in case types that are already online, which includes small claims and guardianships. “Right now, when you get to the point where you want to appeal an electronic case type, you have to go back to paper,” Dalianis said.
NH Supreme Court Clerk Eileen Fox said she is also pleased with the change, which will make practice at the Supreme Court more convenient for attorneys.
“For lawyers, a lot of the work that goes into preparing an appeal is just compiling a brief and an appendix and making the multiple copies that they’re required to file now, so that duplication that’s required now will be eliminated, and they’ll have the ability to file something from the office, and that makes the process simpler,” she said.
In addition, the Supreme Court is working with its software vendor, Thomson Reuters, on completing the final steps in the development of a public access website that will enable users to view docket listings of case documents, but not the documents themselves. That project has faced delays, but is also expected to go online this year, Fox said. “You won’t be able to get to the actual documents, but it would answer questions for some people about whether a case has been filed.”
Enabling full public access to all state court records remains an ultimate goal, but one that won’t be realized in 2017, court officials said.
Chris Keating, director of the NH Administrative Office of the Courts, said everyone involved in the NH e-Court Project at the Judicial Branch agreed that bringing Supreme Court cases online this year makes sense, especially given the high stakes involved in domestic violence and stalking cases.
“These are life-or-death issues, and our systems have got to be 100 percent reliable… Because we get better at this every time we implement something, on some level, I just think it’s so much the better,” he said. “This is hard stuff, transforming the way we do business.”
The changes won’t affect the Judicial Branch’s capital budget request to the NH Legislature of $1 million for continued project funding over the next biennium, Keating said.
Adding the Supreme Court to the electronic filing system means engaging its software vendor, Thomson Reuters, in the NH e-Court Project. The trial court vendors already on board are Tyler Technologies and Intresys. The contract between the Judicial Branch and Thomson Reuters was still being ironed out in late January, with assistance by Mary Ann Dempsey, the newly hired general counsel for the Court.
The original project plan envisioned civil cases in the NH Superior Court would move to electronic filing in 2016, but finding an adequate interface through which judges could easily view documents in complex cases and rule from the bench proved challenging. Belmont said that to successfully facilitate electronic filing in Superior Court, the bench software must be in place and parties need to have access to case documents electronically.
The steps that need to be taken to achieve those goals this year have been outlined and are within reach, says Waters, who credits the NH e-Court Project team at the Judicial Branch with paving the way for faster and more efficient project work this year.
“This by far is the most dedicated, committed team that I’ve ever worked with, and if you have that, along with the leadership support, almost any problem you encounter – and you will encounter them – is manageable,” Waters said. “I’m looking forward to applying some program management concepts and best practices to allow the team to become more focused and to allow the team to deliver additional benefits more quickly.”
In addition to the intense work behind the scenes that goes into keeping confidential information secure online, Waters said, the biggest challenge with a project like NH e-Court is managing expectations.
“I think the most challenging aspect is managing expectations of a diverse group of constituent stakeholders,” she said. “We all use the internet every day, and we see how useful and fast and convenient it can be…. The challenge that we face is that we have limited budgets and limited resources, so it’s finding the right balance, communicating, sharing and finding what’s achievable.”