CM/ECF - The Application

The Application

CM/ECF is a web-based application that is written mainly in Perl and Java which generates HTML with Javascript for some client side validation. The software runs under Solaris or Red Hat Linux OS using Apache webserver. Most courts have moved to a Linux server. An Informix SQL database is used to store the data. In general the software is fairly simple and easily maintained.

All documents are required to be filed in the PDF format. Other file types may be encapsulated inside PDF files, e.g. audio files in MP3 format, or video files. CM/ECF plans to require PDF/A compliant files to meet the requirements of the National Archives and Records Administration. Each court will set its own deadline for requiring documents to be filed in the PDF/A format. No warning period is planned.

Extensive changes were made in version 3.3 to use the YAHOO YUI library. This has increased the complexity of the version 3.2 code. The 3.3 application sports a more modern interface with drop down menus and no frame. Much of the 3.2 simple HTML user interface is still available depending on the menu items selected.

The system is decentralized with each court running its own servers and its own copy of the software. Each court has a live server and separate training and test servers. The test server is used to make changes and install new versions before "going to live." The training server allows users to learn how to use CM/ECF without affecting live cases.

While the application is developed and maintained centrally by the Administrative Office of the US Courts, local staff members configure the application specifically for the local court to conform to local rules and practices. Since source code can be modified locally, there is some variability in the application between districts. Most local changes are cosmetic and do not change the core functionality of the application.

The database design centers around the case record and each case record has multiple related records. For example, the "party" table lists parties to the case—Plaintiff, Defendant, Debtor, etc. In a bankruptcy case the Trustee, US Trustee and certain creditors can become parties to a case. Each party is either pro se or has one or more counsel (attorney) listed. A party can also have a list of aliases, e.g., "Winona Judd DBA 'The Judds'". This feature allows name searches to find the case.

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