Issue 2.7 Litigation Integration II

VirtualCourthouse: Issue 2.7
Litigation Integration II

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt

Litigation integration is a concept which has been around for several decades, about as long as mainframe computers. During the 1970s, with the advent of the mainframe computer in the court environment and its apparant ability to manage large information databases, litigation integration — then called justice integration — became a frequently discussed topic. The criminal court community, including the court, state’s attorney, public defender, sheriff, corrections department, juvenile probation and adult probation realized that they were using the same basic information. They were entering the same information into separate databases maintained on the mainframe computer. In most cases, they were precluded from sharing their databases because of the doctrine of separation of powers. Each office is created by the Constitution of the United States, a state or county. Thus each constitutional officer regards the information necessary to discharge the obligation of the offices mandated by law as the privileged obligation of that office.

For instance in the State of Maryland the office of the State’s Attorney is created by the Constitution of the State of Maryland. The State’s Attorney’s Office is funded through the county budget. Each State’s Attorney for each county elected by the voters of that county views their obligation as a unique obligation to the voters who voted them into office. Hence, they view the information necessary as “their” information. The State’s Attorney’s uniqueness is further complicated by the requirements of attorney/client privilege and the adversarial nature of their business, i.e., presenting evidence in court against an opponent who is trying to defeat their view of the case. Because of this adversarial/privileged nature of their business, State’s Attorneys, rightfully so, will not permit other interested governmental or private agencies access to their mainframe computer information databases.

The Public Defender who sits on the other side of the adversarial table is created by a special act of the legislature. The Public Defender’s operations are funded in the State budget which is proposed by the Governor and adopted by the legislature. The Code of Professional Responsibility adopted by the Court of Appeals requires the Public Defender, a lawyer licensed by the Court of Appeals, to keep any information acquired from or on behalf of the client confidential. Thus, the Public Defender’s computer databases cannot be shared with any other court-related organization.

The Sheriff, Police Department, both County and State, the Probation Departments and Juvenile agencies share similar requirements, although not as compelling. The process of sharing information is further complicated by a budgetary process provided by the various constitutions and law which requires the county budget to fund some agencies, the state budget to fund some agencies and both the county and state budgets to share in the funding of some agencies. This funding dilemma is further complicated by the doctrine of separation of powers which prohibit the executive or legislative branch of the government from controlling the functions of the judicial branch of the government through the budgetary process and thus making judicial decisions.

It was in this environment that many “thought” leaders in the court community of the late 1970s and early 1980s began promoting justice integration of mainframe computer databases. Many were forward-thinking enough to promote re-engineering of the business processes through partnering ventures with Federal, State and local elected officials. Many saw promise in the EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) solution being successfully implemented in the commercial world. This process, which most first observed as the barcode on the grocery item at the checkout counter, requires the identification of data elements of information which all users agree to maintain in the same form. Moreover, agreement is reached as to the number of essential elements of information.

However, the EDI concept has been unsuccessful in the Court community largely because of the structural and constitutional diversity of the many participants. This diversity precludes “one world” hierarchial structuring.

As computer systems have matured from total dependence on the mainframe to the introduction of local area networks and personal computers, the court community is beginning to take advantage of the “groupware” application being developed in the software industry. These systems provide for the sharing of information without the “one world” hierarchical element.


Groupware is defined as any application that promotes communication, collaboration and coordination among teams of people. There are presently four main organizations who provide a groupware solution: (i) IBM-Lotus Notes 4.5 powered by Domino 4.5; (ii) Microsoft-Exchange; (iii) Novel-Groupwise; and (iv) Netscape-Suitespot.

The concept of groupware is broken down into two areas: Commonware and Workflow. Commonware consists of: (i) E-mail, (ii) calendering/scheduling; (iii), discussion databases; and (iv) publishing document databases. Workflow consists of three components: (i) knowledge databases; (ii) tracking application; and (iii) workflow applications. For purposes of visualization, the following client depicts this breakdown:

The commonware elements are provided by all four groupware providers. However, the workflow element is provided only by IBM-LotusNotes 4.5 for Domino.

Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt (Ret.)

Upon his retirement in 1999 Judge Ahalt commenced a career as an ADR neutral and technology innovator.

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