AUGUSTA, Maine — Leigh I. Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, called on legislators Tuesday to support funding for an electronic case-filing system that would allow the public online access to information that now must be requested in person at a courthouse.
Saufley called on lawmakers to support LD 1789, a bill submitted by Gov. Paul LePage, that would allow the issuance of up to $15 million in bonds to purchase an e-filing system.
“I know that I don’t have to tell you, the Maine Legislature, that the public deserves electronic access to its government,” Saufley told the joint assembly of the House and Senate. “I can go online from anywhere and find the pending bills, the sponsors and committee assignments, the status of those bills, both in the committee and on the floor, the language of proposed amendments, committee hearing dates, and all written testimony.
“We seek nothing less for Maine people’s access to justice,” she continued. “Case information, schedules and public documents should be easily accessible. And the system must be carefully designed to assure that certain private information, such as Social Security numbers or victims’ addresses, are well protected.”
New Hampshire’s court system is in the process of converting to an electronic case filing system at a cost estimated between $10.4 million and $12.4 million, according to a report submitted in 2012 to the Legislature’s Appropriations and Judiciary committees.
Saufley said after her speech Tuesday that Maine’s system is estimated to cost less than $15 million. If approved, electronic filing would be implemented in phases beginning with criminal cases in 2017 and be completed two years later.
In her address, the chief justice echoed a theme in the governor’s State of the State address and said the judicial system needs more resources to address the state’s drug and alcohol addiction problems. Saufley did not ask for a specific amount of money to do that but set forth a three-part plan.
That plan includes: the formation of a statewide committee to re-energize the specialty courts, which include Drug, Mental Health and Veterans courts; an expansion of the Unified Criminal Docket to speed the resolution of criminal cases; and the implementation of a pretrial risk assessment that could divert low-risk offenders to treatment, improve victim safety, reduce recidivism and costs to the court system
Legislators on both sides of the aisle praised Saufley’s speech and ideas.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said that e-filing would be a “real game changer for the court system in providing equal access to justice.”
Fredette, an attorney, is the sponsor of LD 1789.
“I applaud Justice Saufley for her commitment to increasing public access to our courts,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who serves as chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee.
A hearing on the bill before the committee has not been scheduled.