Lawyers cheer Idaho’s step into electronic case management

Sean Olson//June 19, 2013

Lawyers cheer Idaho’s step into electronic case management

Sean Olson//June 19, 2013

Boise lawyer Adam Kimball turns in case documents to Jeri Heaton, a clerk at the Ada County Courthouse. With case management system improvements approved by the Idaho Supreme Court, lawyers will soon be able to turn in documents electronically. Photo by Pete Grady

Idaho courts administrators are evaluating bids for the creation of a new electronic case management system, a move lawyers say will mean more convenience and lower costs for firms.

The current system is heavily dependent on paper, which means lawyers have to go to courthouses in the seven Idaho court districts to view, copy or file cases. An online repository does allow anyone to look up whether cases exist and their outcomes, but does not offer an opportunity to look at any court documents.

The new system will mirror the federal case-management system, known as PACER, which means it will allow lawyers to electronically file court documents and anyone with an Internet connection to find and print filed court documents from any district in Idaho, said Kevin Iwersen, the chief information officer for the administrative office of the courts.

Lawyers in the Treasure Valley say the project will benefit everyone involved with the legal system.

“It saves time. It saves money. It puts us into the 21st century,” said Thomas Banducci, of the Andersen Banducci firm in Boise.

Court officials have three bids from vendors vying to integrate case management software – which will replace the current case management software, known as iStars – into the Idaho system, Iwersen said. He declined to discuss the bids until one is chosen, which is tentatively scheduled for July.

The budget for the transfer is unknown until a bid is chosen. There was no range of costs outlined in the request for proposals, Iwersen said. A fund set up by the Legislature brings in $4.8 million in revenues per year to be spent on court technology, but the fund pays for more efforts than just the new case management system.

Iwersen said the state would have to go back to the Legislature in 2014 to ask for more money to fully pay for the project. Maintenance of the system will also cost more, which will be taken from the technology fund, but officials will not know what the increase is until a bid is selected, he said.

The transition to incorporate all seven court districts will take as much as three years, with the first pilot district switching over in the summer of 2014.

When the switch occurs, it could dramatically change some practices, said Thomas J. Lloyd III, a business attorney with Greener Burke Shoemaker in Boise.

Lloyd said lawyers filing in jurisdictions other than their own or even lawyers who don’t work within a couple of blocks of a courthouse can save time and money by not making frequent trips to court.

“For rural practices,” Lloyd said, “it is much more than a minor inconvenience.”

Erik Stidham, a business lawyer and partner with Holland & Hart in Boise, said he expects firms will save money with the change.

Costs add up for firms that must use couriers or messenger services to get hard copies of documents into a faraway court district, Stidham said. Lawyers have limited ability to use fax machines in Idaho districts now, but if a filing is more than 15 pages, it usually must be delivered.

Further, the manpower required to convert all the paper documents into electronic files, which most firms already use, could be cut down significantly, he said.

“It really does save a significant amount of time related to the filing process,” Stidham said. “This is the last vestige for our use for paper.”

Banducci said it is difficult to determine exactly how much savings can be wrung out of the benefits of the new case-management system, but he is confident the savings will be there.

“I think over a year or two or three it would add up, but I don’t know of anyone who has tracked what the convenience factor is,” he said.

Lawyers in Idaho have also been prepared for a more digital process by the federal PACER system, Lloyd said, which would likely make it a smooth transition for most firms in the state.

Patti Tobias, administrative director of the courts, said there has yet to be a decision on what the cost for using the system will be for firms and the public. The PACER system charges 10 cents per page of a file that is looked up through the system, although there is usually a cap of $3 that can be charged for a document even if it goes beyond 30 pages.

That system is much cheaper than most courts in Idaho. In the Ada County District Court, for example, a single copy of one page of a file is $1.