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Benchmarks: Journal of the New York State Unified Court System


E-PetitionJose A.* walked into Kings County Family Court 13 years ago to file a petition to ensure visitation rights with his child, and spent eight hours initiating the paperwork to get his ex-wife summoned to court.

When José A. walked into Kings County Family Court this past December, he filed the same visitation rights petition in connection with another child and completed the same paperwork in 20 minutes.

The difference is an automated electronic filing program jointly developed by the Family Court and OCA's Division of Technology.

"You don't want to know what it was like the last time I came here," José said. "I nearly lost my mind going through the process. But now the new system is really fast."

Under the new system, a person seeking a visitation order enters basic information on an easy-to-use "touch-screen" program on a computer terminal at the courthouse. The program asks simple questions, nearly all of which can be answered either yes or no.

Anyone capable of using an ATM can use the system. The only keyboarding required is the typing of names, Social Security numbers and addresses. Previously, a person had to go through the steps of filling out a hand-written application, being interviewed by a court employee, and then having that employee prepare a petition. That process, including the wait time, often took hours.

The e-petition pilot program began in Kings and Bronx Family Court and is currently limited to visitation cases. The program will expand to New York, Queens and Monroe Counties this summer. OCA is working on making other case types available by e-petition, starting with custody and modifications of support. Eventually, the goal is to allow a person to complete the online petition remotely over the Internet, eliminating the trip to the courthouse. In light of heavy Family Court caseloads, the new system offers significant benefits to both litigants and court staff. In the first six months of the pilot, over 600 people have prepared their own e-petitions.

The prospects for using the technology even further are fascinating, said Kings County Family Court Supervising Judge Jane Pearl. "I think it's very exciting to allow access to justice without making people wait," said Judge Pearl. "The electronic petition program offers tremendous potential."

*José A.'s full name was not used, to protect his privacy.

Spring/Summer 2005PDF Format
HTML: Judicial Institute Judicial Salary Bill State of the Judiciary Drug Law Reform Welcome Innovative Jury Practices ABA American Jury Initiative Security Camera Network Court Security Review Profile: Joseph J. Traficanti Jr. Chief Justices In Manhattan Civil Case Management Court Officer Recruitment Public Access to Courts Family Court E-Petition Program Kids Go to Work Court Construction Update Fiduciary Commission Report OCA Update Bronx Court Cuts Case Backlog Law Day 2005 Merit Performance Awards


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