MassCourts computer system, no longer a “leap into the unknown,” proves to be a practical solution

Issue January 2008 By Roberta Holland

This year, court officials completed the deployment of a modernized IT system in the Housing Court and are now turning their attention to Probate and Family Court.

IT officials said the Housing Court’s transition to the new MassCourts system went smoothly, beginning in June and finishing in October. The electronic case management system consolidates everything from docketing to financial information in one central location. Previously, that information was stored in different databases unable to communicate with one another.

About a dozen court employees have been working on the project full time, aided by staff from contractor Maximus Inc. of Reston, Va.

“We’ve been getting good feedback from users,” said Judge James F. McHugh, associate justice of the Appeals Court and special advisor on information technology to Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan. “The learning curve is there, but once people get over that and adjust to it, they are using it and finding it a very helpful tool.”

Also heartening is the enthusiasm and anticipation from subsequent courts in line to get the new system, McHugh said. “It’s not any longer a leap into the unknown. People are understanding this can help them do things better.”

Craig Burlingame, the Trial Court’s chief information officer, said the Ply-
mouth division will be the first Probate and Family Court to receive MassCourts. That deployment is slated to happen in the first quarter or early second quarter.

“Everyone is hopeful we’ll conclude (Probate and Family Court) in 2008,” Burlingame said.

The Family and Probate Court has been using upgraded scanning and imaging technology since 2006, amassing roughly 1.8 million multi-page documents on almost 200,000 cases, Burlingame said.

McHugh hopes the rollout continues smoothly so more employees can start using MassCourts and “begin to capture its power to improve the macro justice system.”

Currently, District Courts and Boston Municipal Courts are using a thinner version called MassCourts Lite, which offers functionality on the probation and criminal side. Once the Probate and Family Court piece is finished, the IT staff will upgrade District Court and BMC to the full MassCourts system, which will add the civil and financial tracking capabilities. That deployment is currently in the planning stages, McHugh said.

MassCourts also has automated communication with some outside organizations, including the Board of Bar Overseers. In the last year, the system added a nightly exchange with the state police for fingerprint-supported criminal identities. There are now 50,000 in the system.

Also automated is the exchange of data with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which tracks public defender assignments and payments. Burlingame said the system sends the committee about 10,000 documents a month electronically versus the previous system of sending paper documents by standard mail.

“Before, that was something that used to take weeks to process in the mail and then by someone in data entry,” Burlingame said.

McHugh said the courts are “deep in discussion” with the Department of Social Services, as well as the Bureau of Vital Statistics and Registry of Motor Vehicles, to begin similar electronic feeds of data.

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