E-court funding bill advances

TRENTON – Another attempt at an electronic court funding system passed today in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

A3308:   This bill allows revised court filing fees to fund a so-called e-court system that would include electronic filings, access to digital court records, and financial management.

The bill also would help fund Legal Services of New Jersey, which represents poor civil litigants in matters such as landlord-tenant disputes and crisis intervention.

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill in June of 2012. This new bill was released 5-0-1.

If this new bill passes, the state Supreme Court would be in charge of scheduling public comment periods, and setting any implementation dates.

The bill would establish in the general fund a dedicated, non-lapsing fund to be known as the “21st Century Justice Improvement Fund.” 

It will be credited with funds equal to those generated by the bill.

The Senate version passed last fall.

Dan Phillips of the Administrative Office of the Courts supported the bill. “We do have a significant need for additional funding of automation,’’ he said.

“The only way we’re going to survive is through automation.’’

Legal Services of New Jersey supported the bill and painted a dire picture.

From the beginning of 2008 to now, clients have dropped 70,000 per year, to just under 50,000 per year, staffing has dropped from 720 to 360, and total funding has fallen from $70 million to $43 million.

The bill would stabilize the program and prevent further layoffs, the panel was told.

Chairman Assemblyman Peter Barnes said that although he does not know where the governor’s office stands on the bill now, he said there have been some discussions at some point in the past involving at various times the governor’s office, the state Bar, and the Senate president’s office. Barnes said he has not been part of those talks.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll raised concerns about whether this bill differs at all from the earlier bill and reiterated his call for more pro-bono work from attorneys in general.

“I believe this is a very reasonable bill,’’ Barnes said, when one considers the severe funding hits this arena has taken.

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, who abstained at this time but said she supports the effort, said the veto last year was due in part to a perception that this bill was perceived as going outside of the budget.

The state Bar Association also supported the bill, and pointed to a $50 cap on increases to clients as one of the changes it supported.

A3745, which would implement provisions governing standard form contracts used in the mass distribution, marketing and sale of a product such as parking lot receipts and theater tickets, was held.

 

E-court funding bill advances