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Local Courts Are Now Targets for Cyberattacks

Facade of courthouse with columns.
By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 06, 2019 12:51 PM

After a computer virus infected a Philadelphia court system, lawyers were scrambling to file lawsuits and other documents. The First Judicial District shut down computers on May 21 to prevent the virus from spreading. The court also shuttered its website and e-filing programs.

For newer attorneys who never filed physical papers before, it was a rude awakening. Suddenly, they were learning how to do it old-school style.

Indefinite Problem

Scanning and electronic filing don't work in courts that don't have the tech. That's true in many older courthouses. But lawyers weren't ready for the problem in Philadelphia. The shut-down included civil and criminal dockets, court employee email, and other systems. It threatened proceedings, too, like sheriff's sales.

Rachel Gallegos, an attorney for Community Legal Services, asked the court to halt sales until the system is back online. "In light of current circumstances, the court would likely look favorably on a decision to stop sales to avoid the unnecessary loss of homes," she said. A judge summarily denied the request, but the computer problems are not going away so quickly.

Officials said the virus infected "limited number of computers," yet the court's website was shut down "to fully review and clean the operating systems." A spokesperson said there was no data breach, however, and no ransomware attack. There is no timetable for restoration of the systems, the representative said.

Paper and Checks

Meanwhile, law firms are dealing with it. Albert Bixler, representing a local firm, said the courts are doing "a pretty good job" with the situation. Bixler, who is a member-in-charge at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott in Philadelphia, said the firm is doing it the old-fashioned way. They are filing papers with checks attached. "For our people, it didn't require learning anything new," he said. "It just required remembering how to do it the old way."

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