AUGUSTA, Maine — The Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would allow the court system to issue bonds for up to $15 million to purchase and implement a case management, data storage, and electronic filing system.
“This is a major improvement to the efficiency and accessibility of Maine’s courts,” Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said. “With this reform, we are finally moving our court system into the twenty-first century.”
The introduction of e-filing is an initiative expected to make dramatic improvements to the efficiency of Maine courts and the accessibility of documents to the public, Fredette said in a press release issued by the House minority office.
“This is the single most important initiative to affect the Judicial Branch in a decade,” Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel to the judicial branch, said in an e-mail to supporters prior to the vote. “This is not only an important access to justice issue, it is also something that will be good for Maine law enforcement and business, as it will save time and money in accessing the courts.”
Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley sought support for the measure in her Feb. 25 State of the Judiciary speech.
Many other states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, have adopted or are planning to adopt, statewide e-filing. Some states, such as Texas and Florida, are moving toward mandatory e-filing, as the federal court system does.
“The process of filing and retrieving court documents hasn’t changed much since Maine became a state,” Fredette, a lawyer, said. “It doesn’t make sense in this day and age to have to drive halfway across the state just to pick up a document.
“This will help businesses and people spend less time handling court matters and more time earning a living,” Fredette added. “Furthermore, those looking for places to locate a business consider a state’s legal infrastructure among other factors in determining ease of operation. This bill is really an economic development initiative.”
Gov. Paul LePage supported the bill, which now goes to the Senate and House of Representatives. If it passes and is signed into law by the governor, the judiciary may issue the bonds. The measure does not have to be approved by voters.
Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who is chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee could not be reached for comment late Thursday but said last month she supported the bill.
“I applaud Justice Saufley for her commitment to increasing public access to our courts,” Valentino said.