Jon Campisi Oct. 14, 2011, 10:11am

Are you an attorney looking for easier access to upcoming civil trial dates?

How about simply a member of the general public looking to learn more about the judicial system in the City of Philadelphia?

Well, the answers to those questions may have just become much easier, thanks to the smartphone App just rolled out by the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, which is the court system for the City and County of Philadelphia.

Last week, court officials announced via their website the unveiling of the new App available for the iPhone and Android-powered smartphones.

The free program displays the hearing lists for the civil trial division, as well as related docket entries for those listed cases.

The App also contains arbitration hearing dates and related case information, civil motions, scheduled commerce program proceedings, complex litigation trial dates, case management information, mass tort trial dates and docket information and other civil court information.

The city courts’ information and technology personnel responsible for the App seem to be innovators in this respect, since the First Judicial District is the first out of 60 such districts throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to employ the use of said technology.

“As far as we know, no other judicial district has used that technology yet,” said Amy Kelchner, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

But, Kelchner added, “things are changing very fast, so it would not surprise me” if the technology was rolled out in other judicial districts across the Keystone State.

As the court system’s chief innovation officer, Harold Palmer got to work on the program firsthand. He said he couldn’t be more pleased with the way it turned out.

“It’s great, it’s really great,” he said by phone. “The leaders here kind of let us experiment. That’s what is even better. It’s a pride thing for the staff here.”

Palmer said initial talk of improving court technology centered around things like real-time statistics for judges and court administrators. But then things took a turn when it was suggested that the technology infrastructure be improved in such a way that it would benefit lawyers and others involved with the courts.

When the idea to do an App for cell phones and electronic tablets came up, technology employees knew they struck gold.

“Everybody wants Apps,” Palmer said. “That’s the buzzword in technology right now.”

At first, the plan was simply to list the hearings list and other scheduling information. Soon, however, programmers decided that attaching related case information such as docket entries to the lists would truly be beneficial.

“Now, they actually have the civil docket right on their phone, right on their tablet,” Palmer said.

While the App was initially thought to benefit only lawyers doing business with the court, Palmer has a feeling members of the public will soon begin to appreciate the program as well.

“Right now, we gear mostly to the attorneys, but we know that there’s a huge public segment that hits our website and looks for cases that are coming up for trial,” he said.

Aside from noting the technology upgrade on the court’s website, the First Judicial District has really only advertised the program to the bar association, Palmer said. But that will soon begin to change.

Court personnel plan to attend an upcoming bench conference, where they expect to tout the program, and they have already worked on putting together a Youtube video highlighting the App.

Meanwhile, Palmer and his team are even considering making some new additions to the program, although those are still in the works.

“We’re kicking around a few things just to kind of keep up with the trends,” he said.

As for users, they seem to be pleased thus far as well. Stanley Thompson, director of the Complex Litigation Center at the civil trial division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, said he has already installed the free App on his phone, and had nothing but positive things to say about the feature.

“We plan to do more in that area,” Thompson said. We like to use our technology. As long as it’s helpful, it makes things more efficient.”

Palmer said this isn’t the first time the FJD placed first in the way of innovation. The court system was the first, or at least one of the first, in the country to offer real-time dockets on the PalmPilot, he said.

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