By Doug Ireland
---- — Taking legal action in the Granite State just became a little more expensive.
As of July 1, the state’s judicial branch has increased some court fees to raise the $1.3 million needed this year to begin its paperless, electronic filing system.
The system, e-Court, was announced two years ago, but the five-year project’s development has been delayed because of limited state funding.
E-Court is expected to increase the efficiency of the state court system through automation, reducing costs and improving customer service, according to project manager Peter Croteau.
Legal documents can be filed and signed electronically, and fines and fees can be paid online as well, Croteau said. Documents can also be read online on any day at any time, he said.
“Multiple people can look at the same file at the same time,” Croteau said. “They can do this from home, the library or other kiosks.”
The first phase of the project begins later this year with the electronic filing of small claims cases. The 18th and final phase is scheduled for June 2016.
E-Court already has received high praise from New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis.
“The New Hampshire e-Court system will benefit attorneys and members of the public who will no longer have to travel to a courthouse to file paperwork or review documents,” she said in a statement. “We appreciate the Legislature’s willingness to work with us to generate the ongoing funds needed to improve the administration of justice for all citizens of our state.”
Lawmakers agreed earlier this year to more than double the percentage of court fees to be spent on e-Court. That amount has been increased from the 14 percent being dedicated to the system the past two years to 30 percent.
The recently approved capital budget for fiscal 2015 includes $3.2 million for e-Court in addition to $1.9 million allocated in fiscal 2013. But at least $7.2 million — an extra $2.1 million — is needed for full implementation of e-Court, judicial branch spokeswoman Laura Kiernan said. She said about half the states in the country do not have any kind of e-Court.
“What we have now allows us to move forward with the phases,” she said.
The system is expected to cost $1.3 million a year to maintain.
Rockingham Superior Court clerk Raymond Taylor said although e-Court has yet to be implemented, it should be a big improvement over the current system.
“It will expedite the process,” he said.
The new civil case fee increases vary widely. For instance, it now costs $225 to file a counterclaim in a civil lawsuit instead of $180. Filing a marriage waiver costs $75 instead of $60.
For Hampstead attorney Neil Reardon, the higher filing fees were a bit of a surprise.
“They increased everything,” he said.
But the higher filing fees are worth the additional cost, Reardon said.
“It’s the wave of the future — it has to be done,” he said. “If the court system didn’t convert, it will be left in the dust.”
He said the electronic filing of U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents over the last several years has saved him a lot of time and money, especially when buying stamps. Reardon said he spent roughly $100 a week on stamps to mail court documents.
“I’m constantly getting stamps,” he said. “It saves a lot of money.”
The Bankruptcy Court’s electronic notifications help ease that worry, he said.
“It’s nice,” he said. “You get instantaneous filing. You don’t have to wait and wonder, ‘Did the court get that?’”