‘MDEC’ Records Live in Baltimore City, But There’s More to Be Done

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The Maryland Electronic Courts (MDEC) system is live in Baltimore City, but the general public will have to wait a little longer to fully embrace the Circuit Court’s latest step into the 21st century.

After a decade-long wait, MDEC officially launched in the Baltimore City Circuit and District courts on May 6 when courthouses were closed to the public to help staff prepare for the electronic case system’s implementation, according to a press release from the Maryland Judiciary.

MDEC digitizes the court’s heavily paper-based filing system, making Baltimore City the final jurisdiction in the state to implement the system since its initial rollout in 2014.

Among the system’s features is the ability for the public to review court files online; however, they must do so using a kiosk inside the courthouse. This access extends remotely to any involved parties and attorneys of record.

Those who act as their own attorneys as well as attorneys can file documents electronically for new and existing cases.

As of May 9, kiosks inside the courthouse for so the public can review case files online have yet to be installed. A clerk with the Criminal Division of Records informed Baltimore Witness that the office didn’t know when the court would receive a kiosk and how many kiosks would be installed.

In the meantime, she said, the public must continue reviewing physical case files until the kiosk’s installation.

On May 7, Clerk of the Court Xavier M. Conaway responded to an email from Baltimore Witness, saying questions regarding the status of court kiosks and digitized files “will be answered as soon as possible.”

The Maryland Judiciary’s case search website now provides more detailed case information such as the type of hearing and outcome of past proceedings as well as the type of hearing of future proceedings. Case search also provides a timeline of filed documentation, beginning with the statement of charges through resolution.

The same information is available to the public using the Maryland Judiciary’s record search, also referred to as the MDEC portal.

According to defense attorney James Sweeting III, MDEC’s arrival in Baltimore City “has been a long time coming,” especially for those who primarily use the system to electronically file documents.

“I used to practice in Hartford County and MDEC was there five years ago,” Sweeting said. “When I was down in Florida, they had e-filing since the mid-2000s. …It was always a pain that it wasn’t here in Baltimore City.”

Sweeting said he was quick to use MDEC on the day of the launch to file a client’s motion for a new trial online rather than physically going to the clerk’s office or mailing in the documentation.

“It makes it easier for the attorneys. It makes it less expensive for me to do things,” he said. “And if somebody calls me and asks if I can look at a case, I can get past just doing Maryland Judiciary case search and actually look at the different pleadings.”

Bradley MacFee, another defense attorney in Baltimore City, said that before MDEC, attorneys felt like they needed to go to the courthouse and watch as their submitted documentation was dated and time-stamped.

“When we used to try and do that by mail, what we learned was that, sometimes, our documents kind of disappeared into the ether,” MacFee said. “[The documents] never made their way to the court file and, of course, if it’s not in the court file, then it’s like it was never filed.”

Now, once a document is filed through MDEC, there’s an automatic record within seconds, he said.

Although case search and the MDEC portal currently provide more case information than before the system’s launch, MacFee said it’s unlikely the system would help the public unless they’re involved in a case.

“Here we have clerks who are used to dealing with court-related business and they’re struggling with it,” he said. “If you ask the average person out there, ‘What is MDEC?’ they would have no idea what it is. So, I’m hard-pressed to think it’s going to be helpful to anybody other than attorneys and people in the courts.”

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