The "new" Rhode Island Workers' Compensation Court

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From Chief Judge Healy, Rhode Island Workers' Compensation Court

The Rhode Island Workers' Compensation Court is embarking on the implementation of leading-edge technology which will ultimately make us more efficient and give better access to attorneys and the public. This is not an easy process and will not be without communal pain. Hopefully this paper will help answer many questions, but we are sure that it will also bring additional questions to mind.

This document will provide a brief description of the software which we are implementing, the hardware being installed in the Court, and a description of how some of the basic processes in the court will be handled in the new system. Other documents and training will be provided in the near future.

Software

Tyler's Odyssey® File & Serve solution enables registered users to easily file documents with the court anytime and from anywhere — 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Accessed securely via the web, users can login to File & Serve and file their documents online. The e-filing service is integrated with Odyssey® Case Manager, so that any document submitted is automatically populated into Odyssey once accepted by the court, eliminating the need for manual data entry and providing secure document access to interested parties.

The Court is preparing e-filing procedures for the filing of the various petition types and supplemental filings. The document should be completed soon.

Odyssey® Case Manager is the software which has been chosen for the Rhode Island Judiciary's case management program. This software includes case management, financial management, public access, and document processing.

Judge Edition is an intuitive touch screen system to assist judges with functioning in a digital system. It allows judges to simply touch, scroll, and click to access information. It gives judges multiple options for navigating through the data. Judge Edition integrates fully with Odyssey Case Manager and provides protection of information with configurable security.

Secure Public Access Portal Using protected user accounts, registered users can access court case data 24/7 from anywhere. They can get precisely the information they need in minutes, without unnecessary trips to the courthouse or justice agency. Enhanced functionality for attorneys also includes the ability to create an individualized "MyCases" dashboard, which provides quick access to specific cases without ever having to search. Plus, attorneys of record are able to view documents related to a specific case.

Hardware

Each courtroom will be equipped with the following equipment:

1. A touchscreen desktop PC for the Judge (3 PCs in Courtroom 4M for Appellate Hearings). These touchscreen PCs will allow the Judge to run Odyssey Judge Edition.

2. Each clerk's area will have:

a.    A personal computer to run Odyssey Case Manager and take minutes on each case
as the case proceeds.

b.    A second monitor used to display digital documents which have been previously
filed in a case.

c.    A printer to print documents which may be needed during a court procedure such
as a pretrial order or an IME order.

d.    A bar code scanner so that batch scanning can be processed upon completion of the
day's calendar. As information is entered into Odyssey Case Manager, certain
events associated with the filing of paper document, will produce a bar code. The
bar code will be placed on the document. This document will be scanned after the
calendar has been completed and Odyssey Case Manager is automatically updated.
The documents will then be available for viewing on the Secure Public Access Portal.

3. There will be monitors at each counsel table. These are not PCs, but are display monitors only. The clerk will be able to send an image to each monitor should the court be considering a document or exhibit.

4. The witness boxes have been wired for monitors, but at this time, they will not be installed. Should the Court determine a need to have these monitors installed, it can easily be done in the future.

Each judge's chamber will have a touchscreen desktop PC so that they can run Judge Edition. We are aware that some of our judges hold conferences in their office and will need access to the court file.

The clerk's office will be equipped with a kiosk which include a monitor, credit card machine and scanner. This kiosk will be available to an attorney to sign on to their File and Serve account or to their Secure Public Access account. Attorneys will be able to file new petitions or supplemental filings at this kiosk.

The clerk's counter will also have a monitor for public access attached to a printer. This unit will be logged in by a clerk and access to information will be in accordance with the Supreme Court's policy regarding public access.

Each clerk's desk will have a PC and a scanner. Clerks will continue to provide support to the judge to whom they are assigned. They will prepare calendars, update the case files, scan information that was presented in the courtroom and other necessary duties.

Process

While it is very difficult to know for certain whether the following processes will be perfect, this is how the Court feels paper, or lack thereof, will be handled in some of our courtroom procedures. Please know the Court is aware that everyone will have a learning curve. In order not to overwhelm everyone, the Court has decided to run limited calendars the week of March 10th. Each judge will have cases scheduled before them. The court technology division, JTC, will have personnel in many, if not all courtrooms, to assist the judges, clerks and attorneys in this new process. The Court has great confidence that if we work together, without panicking, this will be a success.

Until we work out the kinks, attorneys should probably continue to bring paper files with them to the courtroom. At some point in the future, it is our hope that each attorney will become comfortable with the new, less paper intensive court.

The court is currently testing WiFi in the courtrooms on the 4,h floor for use by attorneys. In the near future each attorney will have acces to WiFi. With this internet connection, attorneys who choose not to maintain paper files, will be able to connect to the Secure Public Access Portal and therefore have digital access to all information previously filed in their cases using their personal laptops, iPads or tablets.

Pretrial Conference

The court will have digital access to the Petitions on Judge Edition. The Clerk will have access to the file in Odyssey Case Manager. If a pretrial exchange of documents had been previously filed, those documents will also be available to the court, digitally. Attorneys would need to have a paper copy of these documents or access the documents through the Public Access Portal at the time of pretrial. After hearing the pretrial, the judge will ask the clerk to print a specific pretrial order (PTO) form. This PTO will be prefilled with the case title, insurer, judge, date. The Judge will then fill out the remainder of the information. Once entered, the Judge will return the PTO to the clerk and a bar code will be attached to it.   Upon completion of the pretrial calendar, the clerk will scan the PTOs into Odyssey Case Manager. The PTO will then be available on the Public Access Portal for the attorneys which they can print if desired.

The same basic process will be followed if an IME is ordered. The clerk will produce the pre-populated IME Order, the judge will complete the order, the clerk will barcode the document and scan it when the calendar is completed.

Most documents will be required to be electronically filed before the hearing. The Workers' Compensation Court E-filing Guidelines and the Supreme Court E-filing Guidelines will be ready soon. However, if an attorney must submit new documents at the pretrial conference, he/she should bring the document in paper form. A copy should also be made available for the Court and opposing counsel. The documents, if submitted and accepted by the Court will be barcoded and scanned upon completion of the conference.

Documents should be submitted electronically 24 hours prior to the hearing to ensure they will be available digitally.

Initial Hearings

Judges seem to handle the Initial Hearing differently. Some hold the hearing on the record, others have a more informal process. Currently, for those judges who complete the Initial Hearing form and have counsel sign the form, the process itself will stay the same. The only difference will be that the Initial Hearing form will be barcoded and scanned into the system.

For those Judges who handle Initial Hearings by making less formal notes, Judge Edition does allow them to enter personal notes on a file. These notes are secure and only accessed by court staff or the judge themselves.

Exhibits entered at the initial hearing will be processed the same as at trial (see below).

Trial

The same process of document and digital image processing will apply during the trial process. There are a couple to exceptions though.

Exhibits

All exhibits to be presented in court shall be submitted during the trial in paper form. Attorneys should be certain that sufficient copies are available for opposing counsel and the Court. Once marked by the Judge, and upon completion of the court session, the exhibit will be scanned in by the clerk. Once scanned, the exhibits will be able to be viewed from the Public Access Portal. At this time, the court is planning to maintain a paper file of marked exhibits in each case until the case is closed.

Commutation Exhibits

Since almost every document in a Petition for Commutation will be marked as an exhibit, and it would not be reasonable to have each of these documents resubmitted at trial. As such, the Court will use a different method to process the exhibits to be marked in Commutations.

During the E-filing of a commutation, the attorney will file the Petition for Commutation as the lead document in File and Serve. The remaining 11 or 12 items required for the filing of a commutation will be filed as separate documents in the same "envelope". This process will be explained further in the File and Serve Webinar.

During a commutation hearing, all documents contained in the filing will be available to the Court on Judge Edition, to the Clerk in Odyssey Case Manager, and to the attorney either through their paper file or through the Public Access Portal. The court will record, on a paper form, each document which is being marked in hearing. Note: the documents themselves are not actually being stamped and marked. Upon completion of the hearing the clerk will record the exhibits in Odyssey Case Manager and link each document, previously filed, to the exhibit listing. The clerk will also scan in the paper record of the marked documents which had been completed by the Judge.

Clerk Display of Exhibits

Once an Exhibit has been scanned into Odyssey, the clerk, at the Court's request, will be able to display the exhibit on all monitors in the courtroom.

Summary

While every court process has not been covered in this paper, the court hopes that it will give everyone a better idea of how the process will work.

We are working diligently to ensure that the information from our current system converts correctly into Odyssey Case Manager. We have just this week begun to train our staff. We are wiring and having new equipment installed. We are having clerks' desks in the courtroom expanded to support the equipment necessary. We are writing manuals and guidelines. But there is much more to do. It will be a very busy month.

The one thing we are sure everyone will learn through this process is patience!!

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