AUGUSTA — Entry screening at the state’s 38 courthouses would increase 20 percent if the governor’s proposed budget is approved, but the court system will have to find $350,000 on its own to explore the cost of converting from paper documents to an electronic filing system.
Gov. Paul LePage on Friday released his $6.3 billion budget proposal for the next two fiscal years.
If the budget is approved by the Legislature, the court system would be allocated a total of $70.44 million the first year and $72.87 million the second. The judiciary’s budget in the last biennium, which ends June 30, 2013, was $62.47 million in the first year and $64.58 million in the second.
The governor’s proposed budget does not include money requested to begin the process of converting from a paper document to electronic filing system. It also would not give the judiciary the money it requested to implement full-time entry screening at all of the state’s courthouses, but would increase funding by $1 million each year so that entry screening takes place 70 percent of the time.
Leigh I. Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which oversees the administration of the state’s court system, asked for $350,000 to pay a consultant to develop a request for proposals for a new case management system that would allow for electronic filing, according to Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the court system.
“We are very disappointed there is no money for e-filing in the governor’s budget,” Lynch said Monday.
Last year, the Legislature’s Appropriations and Judiciary committees asked for a report on how electronic filing would benefit the court system, how and when it could be implemented and what the cost would be. The report, submitted in July, said that the cost of implementing such a system should be determined by a request-for-proposals process.
Previously, Saufley has estimated the cost to implement an e-filing system would be about $10 million. New Hampshire’s court system is in the process of converting to an electronic case filing system at a cost estimated between $10.4 million and $12.4 million, according to the report.
Saufley also requested an additional $2.4 million in the first year of the budget and $2.5 million in the second to allow for full-time entry screening in every courthouse in the state. The governor’s budget included an additional $1 million for increased entry screening.
“So the proposal moves us in the right direction and if adopted by the Legislature will increase court safety, but still falls short of where we need to be,” Lynch said.
The Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor is the only courthouse in the state that has full-time entry screening.
Lynch said Monday that statewide, people coming into courthouses, including the one in Bangor, are screened about 50 percent of the time. She said that includes some courthouses where entry screening takes place 90 percent of the time and others where it occurs far less. Lynch declined to discuss specifics about how often people entering courthouses are screened except for the Penobscot Judicial Center.
Saufley has advocated for increased entry screening for at least 10 years. Federal funds purchased metal detectors and X-ray machines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but money for staffing to operate them at all 38 of the state’s courthouses has never materialized because of budget constraints.
As of Monday, Saufley had not reviewed the budget but will comment on it in her State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature, scheduled for Feb. 21, Lynch said.
“As you know this was a very difficult budget to propose and it is a budget that prioritizes a lot of services with the limited resources available,” Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, said Monday in an email. “The governor believed court security was a higher priority for the judiciary, and the branch may have other means to explore e-filing utilizing resources they already have.”
Lynch agreed with Bennett about court security.
“Developing a modern case management system is a high priority but the governor is correct, making courthouses safe is the highest priority,” Lynch said. “We will continue to work with all parties, the governor and the Legislature, to find the resources to move the courts in the direction of electronic records and filing systems.”