Friday, March 4, 2011

The Future is Not Paper - Part 4

Syndicated Court Calendars

Court calendaring is simply a nightmare.  But as we all know, calendars are the grease in the court's wheels.  And without the structure and schedules, the judicial process would be chaos.  But while Case Management Systems have done a good job of being able to store preferences and automatically search for the next available time based upon a jurisdiction's complex rules, these capabilities and information sharing have not extended beyond the courthouse walls.

One brief example: In 2005, the Governor of the State of New Mexico, Bill Richardson asked the legislature for additional judges partly because of scheduling issues.  The Police Sergeant in charge of DWI crime in Albuquerque, NM reported that:
"scheduling nightmares abound for officers. In a single afternoon, he's been scheduled to attend three trials and three pretrial interviews. That's problematic because arresting officers are often the only witnesses in DWI cases so many are dismissed when officers fail to appear in court. 
"I have eight officers on this unit, and they make 2,200 to 2,500 DWI arrests a year," Brown said. "When I get a (failure to appear) notice on one of them, I research it, and a lot of times I find that one officer was scheduled in 12 different courtrooms in the morning alone."(see Endnote 1)
Courts use primarily manual processes to calendar and schedule (I've even seen white boards).  The current "technologies" are:

  • The automated CMS for setup and recording the core calendar structure and scheduling events.
  • Telephone and E-mail with voice and manual negotiation by staff (calendar clerks and judicial assistants) and requesting attorneys, paralegals, and litigants.
  • Face-to-face meetings (in courtrooms, chambers, etc.) with everyone consulting their individual calendars is one of the most common ways that schedules are set.
  • And even a few courts employing instant messaging
  • All methods employ a lot of personal time and effort to communicate even the most basic information.  

But there are some interesting ideas that have been developing in recent years that could be part of a future solution.  John Udell is a "Technology Evangelist" with Microsoft Corporation and formerly a columnist with  InfoWorld and the "classic" Byte magazines as well as a person who's writings I follow closely via his blog.

In recent years he became interested in problems surrounding calendars and their inefficiency and ineffectiveness.  And this past December (2010) he gave a talk at Harvard University Law School's Berkman Center.(see Endnote 2).  The video webcast for online or download viewing can be found at:   In the talk he explains his "elmcity project" that created a web enabled community calendar supporting "information syndication".

There are a lot of ideas in that last sentence and so let's break it down:

1. Web Enabled - meaning that it can easily send and receive information using internet standards.
2. Community - meaning shared and open.
3. Information syndication - meaning you can subscribe to personally receive the information being shared in the calendar.

Now doesn't something like that sound like there are some ideas in there that might make the tortured world of court calendaring and scheduling easier?  I think so; and therefore let's continue.

Specifically as he writes in his blog post about elmcity and his Harvard talk:

  • Realize that event data published in a structured format, unlike data published as HTML or PDF, can be routed through a publication/subscription syndication networks.
  • Make public calendars available in the appropriate structured format: iCalendar (RFC 5545), the venerable Internet standard supported by all major calendar applications and services.
  • Recognize that iCalendar is the RSS of calendars. It can enable a calendar-sphere in which, as in the blogosphere, everyone can publish their own feeds and also subscribe to feeds from other people  or from network services.
  • Help build the data web by owning the parts of it for which we ourselves are the authoritative  sources.

Let's talk about this iCalendar standard.  Nearly everyone uses the iCalendar standard if you have a smart phone (like a Blackberry) that automatically connects with your Microsoft Exchange Calendar; even if you don't realize it.  This is the best kind of standard for users because you don't need to do anything, it just simply works.

But John Udell realized that it could and should do more.  As originally developed iCalendar was limited in the usual scope of implementation. An analogy might be "texting" between cell phones before Twitter.  Texting basically is one to one communications while Twitter allows the message to be sent to anyone who subscribes to the feed.  And one other fact, many of the commercial Court Case Management Systems vendors already have provided connections/extensions from the court calendar to Microsoft Exchange and/or to the iPhone/Blackberry using the iCalendar standard.

So with the "elmcity project" Mr. Udell has created an ability for the shared calendar to be fed the information from many sources and in turn, send that calendar schedule to those who subscribe.  The elmcity service is an example of what Rohit Khare memorably called syndication-oriented  architecture.  And while "elmcity" doesn't replace the court's CMS calendar, it provides a concept for a web service that extends and facilitates calendaring information sharing via the web.  And in another article Mr. Udell explains how one can manage their private and public calendars together. Again, doesn't this sounds a lot like what courts do every day?

He has published an extensive FAQ about the elmcity project at:

And as mentioned above, to see some elmcity calendars that have already been created go to:

Therefore in summary, there is a standard, iCalendar that allows for scheduling information to be created and shared.  The elmcity project provides for subscription and syndication of that information to those who choose to receive it.

Much more discussion to come?

1) Retrieved from: in 2009 from an Associated Press article published on January 17, 2005 titled: Richardson pledges more judgeships, more funding for prosecutors at DWI summit.

2) We here at the NCSC are long time admirers of the Berkman Center staff having hosted two keynote speakers at Court Technology Conferences, Prof. Jonathan Zittrain in 1999 and Prof. Charles Ogletree in 2001.

Maine: One sentence bill directs judicial branch to upgrade its computer system

Typically legislation related to a state judiciary's computer system(s) are parts of budget bills or sections of other non-appropriations bills related to the judiciary. Maine's HB 644 of 2011, however, may go on record as the single shortest and most direct piece of legislation on the matter ever.

Below is the sum total of the bill (formatting in original):

Resolve, To Streamline the Judicial Process in Maine's Courts

Sec. 1. Judicial Department to upgrade its computer system. Resolved: That the Judicial Department shall design and implement a plan to upgrade its computer system to ensure access by Maine citizens and attorneys to electronic filing and scheduling online.

The bill's summary is almost as long as the bill itself:

This resolve directs the Judicial Department to design and implement a plan to upgrade its computer system to ensure access by Maine citizens and attorneys to electronic filing and scheduling online.

The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee, but presumably it would be sent to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Interesting note: Maine is one of three states (Connecticut and Massachusetts are the others) that rely primarily on joint judiciary committees.

Cross-posted to Gavel to Gavel.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Colorado: Bill would require *private* companies that maintain criminal court records purge their data when court orders records sealed

It is somewhat of a truism that nothing is ever truly lost or forgotten on the internet. Colorado's HB 1203 of 2011, as passed by the state's House on February 23, looks to put the genie somewhat back in the bottle.

Under CRS 24-72-308, if a Colorado State court orders a criminal record sealed, "each custodian of the records" must seal the record. But "custodian" is limited to "the official custodian or any authorized person having personal custody and control of the criminal justice records in question." Private companies are therefore not included.

HB 1203 keeps the existing definition of "custodian" but defines a "private custodian" as "a private entity that has custody of the information and provides that information to others as a part of its business." These "private custodians" would also be subject to court orders requiring the sealing of criminal records. After being served with a copy of the order, the private custodian "shall remove the records that are subject to [the] order from its database."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Indiana: Floor amendment to unrelated bill would require courts provide bulk data

Courts have been contending with how to handle bulk data requests for years. Recently, however, efforts in Arizona and other states have sought to bypass the courts and mandate the disbursement by legislative act. The most recent example is in Indiana.

SB 561, as introduced, dealt with corrections and sentencing. A floor amendment, added on February 21 however, requires the division of state court administration to implement a standard program for disseminating bulk court case information for a reasonable fee. Moreover, the bill requires an executive branch agency (the Indiana Office of Technology) annually certify that case management systems operated or funded by the division of state court administration comply with this program.

Finally, while the amendment allows for the charging of "a reasonable fee" it defines "reasonable" as "not [to] exceed the direct cost of operating the export program and delivering data to the recipient plus a prorated fee to recoup the direct costs of developing the export program. In any one (1) year, the aggregate prorated fees charged under this subdivision may not exceed five percent (5%) of the direct costs of developing the export program."

The bill, as amended, was approved by the full Senate 2/22/11 and is currently in the House awaiting committee assignment.

Cross-posted to Gavel to Gavel.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Florida: Frustration over inability to come up with privacy rules for online court records

In 2003, the Florida Supreme Court created a Committee on Privacy and Court Records with the laudable goal of set policies of the information available on court records in general, and electronically accessible records in particular (read the order creating the committee here).

Eight years later the debate continues, much to the chagrin of Justice Barbara Pariente who has asked committee members to "get on the stick and get the rest done." According to The Lakeland Ledger, the committee has only now "proposed rules for excluding personal information such as Social Security and credit card numbers from court files if not required to resolve or manage cases. Criminal and traffic cases, though, would be exempt as committees for those two segments of the judicial system have yet to submit recommendations for removing personal information from case filings." Questions about the use or entire (or partial) Social Security Numbers, names of minors, and the sheer volume of data involved continue to plague the committee.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Legal XML E-Filing Standard Revision Review for Comment Announced

Via e-mail from on February 26, 2011:  The OASIS LegalXML Electronic Court Filing TC members have recently approved a Committee Specification Draft (CSD) and submitted this specification for 30-day public review.

This OASIS Technical Committee was chartered to will develop specifications for the use of XML to create legal documents and to transmit legal documents from an attorney, party or self-represented litigant to a court, from a court to an attorney, party or self-represented litigant or to another court, and from an attorney or other user to another attorney or other user of legal documents.

Overview: This document defines the LegalXML Electronic Court Filing 4.01 (ECF 4.0) specification, which consists of a set of non-proprietary XML and Web services specifications, along with clarifying explanations and amendments to those specifications, that have been added for the purpose of promoting interoperability among electronic court filing vendors and systems. ECF Version 4.01 is a maintenance release to address several minor schema and definition issues identified by implementers of the ECF 4.0 specification.

Public Review Period: The public review starts today, 26 February 2011 and ends 28 March 2011.

This is an open invitation to comment. OASIS solicits feedback from potential users, developers and others, whether OASIS members or not, for the sake of improving the interoperability and quality of its technical work.

URIs: The prose specification document and related files are available here:

Editable Source (Authoritative):

XML Schemas:

Other specification artifacts:

Additional information about the specification and the OASIS LegalXML Electronic Court Filing TC may be found at the TC's public home page:

Comments may be submitted to the TC by any person through the use of the OASIS TC Comment Facility which can be located via the button labeled "Send A Comment" at the top of the TC public home page, or directly at:

Comments submitted by TC non-members for this work and for other work of this TC are publicly archived and can be viewed at: