Maine’s new electronic court filing system will be available to the public for a fee, the state’s top judge said Thursday.

The State Supreme Judicial Court was about to hold a public hearing Thursday morning on the $15 million system, which will allow prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges to file documents online, when Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said the court had already decided the matter of public access via the internet. Details, including fees for accessing documents, are still to be determined.

She said some documents that are currently off-limits to the public, such as divorces involving children and many juvenile matters, will still be off-limits. Saufley said the new system will be internet-based, allowing remote access to court documents, such as schedules, motions and decisions.

“This is good news for transparency in our court system and a better-informed public,” said Cliff Schechtman, executive editor of the Portland Press Herald.

Schechtman, other media representatives and the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition were in Augusta to testify before Saufley to urge that the new system be accessible to the public.

The decision “is great news and a good thing for the public and everyone who is concerned with an open, transparent and accountable court system,” said Sigmund D. Schutz, an attorney and board member of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition.


He said his organization and others will now focus on the details of the plan for the new filing system. Saufley indicated that rules will be proposed by the fall and the public will be given an opportunity to comment. She also suggested that the court might make some recommendations to the Legislature about whether to expand the categories of documents that are confidential in court files,

“We need to make sure that line is drawn in the right place,” Schutz said.

The state signed a contract to install a new electronic system with Tyler Technologies in 2016 and it is expected to take years to fully roll out. A task force formed to study access to the system decided last year that remote public access should be limited to dockets, the lists of the cases that are ongoing in the courts. The task force recommended that the public would have to travel to a courthouse to see documents associated with cases, a decision overruled by Saufley in her announcement Thursday.

Some lawyers had argued that access should be limited because of privacy concerns.

The public can access most documents filed in federal courts via PACER, an internet-based system that tracks cases in all federal courts. Users generally have to set up an account. Fees charged to access documents are typically 10 cents a page, but that fee is usually capped at $3 for documents that contain more than 30 pages.

Chief Justice Leigh Sauffley of the Maine Supreme Court.

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