Updated 5:30 p.m.
It’s been over a week since a virus shut down the widely used online court websites for Philly’s First Judicial District.
On May 21, as a “precautionary measure” against potential malware, the court halted its electronic filing system, placed email accounts on lockdown and shuttered its website without so much as a redirect message. The suspension of these online services has frustrated attorneys, plaintiffs and even people trying to report for jury duty.
Even more frustrating? No one seems to have a clue as to when a fix might arrive.
The court’s IT department is looking into the issue, according to spokesperson Gabriel Roberts, who said that the Philly Office of Information Technology is also helping troubleshoot.
“While there is no definitive timetable for when systems will be fully operational, IT professionals are working diligently to restore services,” the courts wrote in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Because this matter is continually evolving, the FJD will not be commenting further at this time.”
Attorneys in Philadelphia say it’s the first time the system has gone so severely kaput since the online filing system was first introduced nearly a decade ago. Over the last week, the website has also delayed courtroom proceedings in cases where judges were relying on electronic briefs to prepare for hearings.
The courts are directing everyone to file their documents in person. Naturally, confusion has ensued.
Files dumped into ‘a big box’
Joseph Console, a partner at Console Matison LLP, a Philly-based real estate law firm, was one of dozens who brought folders full of legal documents related to civil cases to Room 296 in City Hall on Wednesday morning — documents they typically would’ve filed online.
Console isn’t sure how long his clients will be waiting for their cases to move forward.
“They just told me the stuff I filed now was essentially being put in a big box and really wouldn’t be pushed forward in a case until the computer system got back up or until they came up with a better solution,” he said.
Observers say more court personnel than usual appears to be on hand to handle the larger paper caseload and reduce wait times.
“We were kind of thinking tomorrow it would be back up, but we don’t have any information as attorneys,” he said. “We’re looking at the Twitter page for PhilaCourts.gov like everyone else — or not, because who looks at Twitter page for the Philadelphia court system?”
People trying to report or reschedule jury duty have taken to tweeting @PhilaCourtsJury, which has been granting postponements in reply messages.
With court staffers email accounts down for the count, it’s also a bit hard to get in touch — not that additional information has been bountiful.
Attorneys acknowledged some of their clients might be annoyed, but for the most part, delays caused by the snafu won’t be irreparable so long as people could continue to file manually in person.
Paul Hetznecker, a veteran criminal defense attorney, said the frustration is understandable, but it’s better than the alternative of rushing back into operation too soon.
“They certainly have to approach this with due diligence so that there’s no further impact on the system,” Hetznecker said. “As long as they’re being very cautious about the way they’re conducting their forensic examination of the computers — I think that’s well worth the wait.”
Here are the locations where you can file in person:
- Criminal filings: 2nd floor, Stout Center for Criminal Justice
- Common Pleas Civil filings: Room 296, City Hall
- Municipal Court Civil filings: Widener Building (1339 Chestnut Street), 10th floor
- Family Court filings: 1501 Market Street, 8th and 11th floors