SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - San Francisco Superior Court has called for bids on a contract to set up a system so lawyers can file their documents through the web. A different IT system pushed by California's central court bureaucracy is not under consideration.
According to terms announced last week, San Francisco's trial court is looking for a "partnership" with a private contractor. It looks like the cost of that partnership will be paid by lawyers who e-file documents.
San Francisco's "request for proposal," in the jargon of public contracts, does not mention the Court Case Management System, an IT system built for California's courts at extraordinary public expense. The latest version of that system is supposed to allow electronic filing.
"The court doesn't have CCMS now and doesn't have plans to use CCMS in the future," said San Francisco's court spokesperson Ann Donlan.
A key aspect of the San Francisco's existing computer system is that it is already set up to receive e-filed documents, leaving as a fairly straight-forward endeavor the remaining component of providing a delivery system.
"Without getting too technical, the court already has a case management system to store and organize the case information, a document management system to store the documents, and the e-filing manager, or EFM, which is what an external e-filing system plugs into," said Adam Angione, special projects editor for Courthouse News.
"So it just needs the e-filing system to plug in."
In general, courts attempting to switch over to Internet-based filing are faced with three options, building their own software, buying a license for privately built software, or sharing income with a vendor that provides the software.
"Because the court doesn't want to or can't build the e-filing system itself, or pay for a software license to buy the e-filing system and run it internally, they're going with the third option," said Angione "which is the least costly to the court but usually the most costly to the filer, compared to the other e-filing software options of building or buying."
One of the downfalls of such vendor-dependent systems has been that the vendor takes de-facto control of court information and documents, and then makes millions of dollars through the sale of data. The courts are left standing alongside that road to revenue, tin cup in hand.
Over time, they have wised up.
The terms of San Francisco's auction say the court retains full control of the documents and the income they provide. The vendor cannot resell the documents.
"It's pretty clear that the court is trying to control public access and trying to prevent a system where the vendor can sell public access," said Angione.
The project that in some ways competes with vendor-dependent systems is the long campaign by the central court bureaucracy to develop an IT system for use in all of California's trial courts. It was supposed to provide all the key elements in accepting and keeping track of legal documents -- case management, document storage and e-filing.
But the statewide endeavor has drained the California court budget of $521 million over nine years. That massive and massively expensive undertaking is projected to continue costing California's treasury a cool quarter-million dollars a day from now until mid-2014, and in all likelihood it will continue to cost millions for years afterwards.