Federal Courts Forge Into Electronic Age
Approximately 25 percent of U.S. Federal courts and two-thirds of bankruptcy courts use an electronic filing system, eliminating paper and increasing access to files for lawyers and the public.
However, the trend toward electronic filing is leaving the poor behind. According to advocates for the poor, the electronic systems do not benefit the poor because they cannot afford a computer, Internet access, or the seven cents per page charged for reading court records online.
Shelly Snook, aide to Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says pauper cases will still be filed on paper and scanned into the system by clerks. Other methods being implemented to help the poor interact with an electronic court system include the installation of public-use computers in Kansas City and the waiver of filing fees for low-income people without lawyers in Colorado, which has also installed self-help computers in courthouses.
In addition, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Calif., designed English and Spanish Web pages that require no legal background and ask questions at a fifth-grade level to fill out legal documents.
Ronald W. Staudt, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, noted that the problem of maintaining contact with poor litigants over the course of cases must still be solved.
Leon Friedman, a law professor at Hofstra University, pointed out the case of Florida prisoner Clarence Earl Gideon as he expressed confidence that courts will remain accessible.
Gideon sent a five-page, handwritten pauper petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided in 1963 that all criminal defendants, regardless of financial status, have the right to a lawyer.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the Associated Press (10/10/03); Sniffen, Michael J.