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Florida Bar Publishes Article on FCTC Co-Authored by Judge Lisa Munyon

F​lorida Courts Technology Commission:  The Integral Body of Which You've Never Heard

by Judge Lisa Munyon and Christina Blakeslee

Mandatory e-filing. Electronic court records. Redaction of confidential information. Anonymous public access to court records over the Internet. Users of our courts may believe that technology has recently invaded the judicial system. However, for the past two decades, the Florida Supreme Court has charted a thoughtful, deliberate path along its journey to provide Floridians increased access to its courts and Florida taxpayers with a judiciary that is a good steward of tax dollars.

On September 8, 1995, the court established the Court Technology User’s Committee to assist in its responsibility of adopting policies and plans for the use of information technology resources in Florida’s courts. In July 1997, the court issued an administrative order extending the user committee term for two more years, but changed the name of the committee to the Florida Courts Technology Commission (FCTC). In conjunction with the FCTC, the court also formally established three subcommittees: 1) the Appellate Courts Technology Subcommittee; 2) the Electronic Filing Subcommittee; and 3) the Trial Courts Technology Subcommittee. The court established each subcommittee to assist the court, the FCTC, and the Office of the State Courts Administrator in providing advice on technical standards and policies, in reviewing and recommending approval of standards and software to support the needs of appellate and trial courts, and in reviewing and recommending court network interface standards. The court extended the administrative order in two-year terms for several years and continued to focus on the internal use of technology by the courts.

With the increased use of electronic court records, the court recognized the pressing concern about the broad release of sensitive or confidential information contained in court records through electronic media. At the court’s direction, the Judicial Management Council studied the issue and made recommendations to the court that resulted in the creation of the Committee on Privacy and Court Records in 2004. As a result of this committee’s work, the court adopted changes to court rules that protect necessary confidential and sensitive information in court records by minimizing and eliminating the filing of unnecessary sensitive or confidential information. Additionally, the court adopted rules requiring filers to identify any confidential information within a court filing.

Concurrently with this effort, clerks of court were creating electronic records and making some of those records available on the Internet. Because the process of minimizing and protecting sensitive and confidential information was in its infancy, the court placed a limited moratorium on the release of electronic records on July 1, 2006, and approved a pilot project — undertaken by Clerk R. B. “Chips” Shore of Manatee County — for the electronic release of court records over the Internet. This pilot project was the genesis of the present Access Security Matrix that compiles statutory and rule provisions governing online access to confidential information within court records.

In 2010, the responsibilities and membership of the FCTC were codified in Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.236 as a standing court commission. The FCTC has 25 members, comprised of judges, lawyers, clerks, technology officers, court administrators, and members of the public appointed by the chief justice after consultation with the court.

The FCTC is responsible for overseeing, managing, and directing the development and use of technology within the judicial branch, under the direction of the court. The FCTC is required to make recommendations to the court on all matters of technology policy affecting the judicial branch, on policies for public access to electronic court records, and on the relative priorities of various technology projects within the judicial branch. Among other responsibilities, the FCTC is required to establish, review, and update technology standards; create procedures whereby courts, clerks, and others can apply for approval of new technology and modification of existing technology affecting court records; develop and maintain electronic security policies; ensure accessibility; and ensure that the technology used in the branch is capable of the required integration with other systems. The FCTC has the authority to enforce the technology policies, standards, and requirements adopted by the court and to terminate a program or system that is not in compliance.

The FCTC has established committees and workgroups to vet and recommend technology policies and standards to the FCTC for ultimate adoption by the court. Some of the recommendations that have been made by the committees or workgroups and approved by FCTC and the court are as follows:

  • Court Application Processing System (CAPS) Functional Requirements — These requirements ensure all CAPS standards are incorporated into the CAPS systems being deployed for judges and judicial staff. 
  • Integration and Interoperability Document — A technical document that defines the preliminary technical requirements in the judicial branch.
  • Standards for Electronic Access — A technical document that defines e-filing standards.
  • Data Exchange Standards — A technical document that defines how and which data should be transported from one point to another.
  • Document Storage Standards — This technical document is not yet completed, but will define how all documents within the branch should be stored.
  • Access to Electronic Court Records Standards — These standards establish technical and operational requirements for online access to court records by the public, attorneys, judges, and other users.

Through the committees, subcommittees, and workgroups, the FCTC has taken on a number of projects. These groups and the FCTC as a whole have devoted considerable time and effort to improving technology in the courts. The following groups were established and have current statewide projects underway:

  1. Docket Code Workgroup was established to standardize docket codes in the portal for uniformity.
  2. Proposed Order Workgroup was established to research a standardized method for electronically transmitting proposed orders.
  3. Interpreter Data Workgroup was established to identify interpreter data elements to manage the delivery of interpreter services at case initiation and the associated costs with each case.
  4. FCTC/RJAC Joint Workgroup was established to review the Court’s Technology Standards and the Rules of Judicial Administration in order to determine any similarities/inconsistencies and make recommendations to harmonize any differences.
  5. Access Governance Board was established to develop and maintain a consistent statewide electronic access model (access security matrix) and standards (standards for access to electronic court records).
  6. Certification Subcommittee was established to view demonstrations of judicial viewers and certify vendors in compliance with the established CAPS standards. In addition, the subcommittee reviews/updates functional requirements of the CAPS viewers.
  7. Technical Standards Subcommittee was established to create/update technical standards as they relate to court technology.
  8. Standards Consolidation Workgroup was established to consolidate and organize all of the technical standards into the Standards for Electronic Access to the Courts.
  9. E-Portal Committee is instrumental in the development of and modifications to the statewide e-portal. This committee serves as a liaison group between the FCTC and the e-Filing Authority Board that manages the e-portal. In addition to the e-Portal Committee, an e-Portal User Work Group was created to review the functionality of the state portal and to coordinate with the E-Filing Authority Board on issues and concerns identified by the user group.
Through the leadership of the court, and the work done collaboratively with other judicial system partners, Florida courts have made great advances in the use of technology to improve and enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, and timeliness of those processes that are critical to the management of information technologies. The trial courts have undergone a substantial technological transformation affecting the way in which the judicial branch functions and meets the needs of its users. Attorneys are filing cases electronically; judges are beginning to work with electronic case files; and clerks are running their business processes using automation and electronic forms and documents. Today, technology is no longer a “luxury” or “add-on” to existing resources; it is inextricably connected to the daily operations of the judiciary and assists with the effective, efficient, and fair disposition of cases in a timely manner.

Judge Lisa T. Munyon is the chair of the Florida Courts Technology Commission. She currently serves in the Complex Civil Litigation Division (Business Court) and as administrative judge of the Circuit Civil Division of the Ninth Judicial Circuit. She has been a circuit judge since 2003. She earned a B.S. in finance with high honors in 1982 and J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1985.

Christina Blakeslee is the chief technology officer for the 13th Circuit and recently was appointed to the FCTC. Prior to that, she worked at the Office of the State Courts Administrator for 18 years and was lead staff to the FCTC as well as all the subcommittees and workgroups. She attended Morse Business School and Ulster College.