Court officials in Maryland believe their computer systems will function without major Y2K glitches come Jan. 1, but in case they don't, extensive backup preparations are being carried out to make certain they will be able to operate.
Court administrators, computer experts and some judges will be on the job Jan. 1 to monitor--and, if necessary, trouble-shoot--Y2K problems.
Although Jan. 1 is a holiday and a Saturday, William D. Missouri, chief administrative judge of the Prince George's County Circuit Court, will be at the Upper Marlboro courthouse early that morning. "I'll be there to make sure my key card still gets me into the building and to ensure the computers still work," Missouri said.
Missouri, other court officials and computer specialists are expecting the computers will continue to record court dates, issue subpoenas and generate child-support checks--but are preparing to deal with the possibility they won't.
"We are guardedly optimistic. We have taken every precaution that we can, and the (Y2K) tests have gone well, but we recognize everyone is fallible," said Lisa Ritter, assistant chief clerk of administration for the statewide District Court system.
"We've written contingency plans for all of our locations for administrative clerks, administrative judges and administrative commissioners," Ritter said. "Everyone will know what the others are doing and what is happening in their area. They will all have home phone numbers, pager numbers and cell phone numbers for high-ranking court officials and computer specialists, who will be on call."
Officials who on Jan. 1 stream into District Court headquarters in Annapolis, as well as District Courts throughout the state, will update Chief District Judge Martha F. Rasin on the computer situation by phone, Ritter said.
District Court commissioners, who work all hours of every day of the year setting bond in criminal cases, will be the initial officials to see what effect, if any, the changeover from the year 1999 to 2000 will have on court computers. Montgomery County court computer experts will be at the county courthouse in Rockville after midnight Jan. 1 to check computers there.
On Sunday, Jan. 2, administrative court clerks at each of the 60 District Court locations statewide will go to their courthouses to check computer systems and other equipment, Ritter said.
One way or another, everyone is to back up crucial computer files.
On Dec. 31, all important computer files in the Prince George's Circuit Court system will be backed up on ZIP drives, tapes and cartridges, said Libby Clapp, chief of information technology for Prince George's County.
Two sets of backup files will be stored, one at the courthouse and the other at a secure building away from the courthouse, Clapp said.
"We've told our folks to download the essentials onto disks and be prepared to do dockets and subpoenas with typewriters, if it comes to that," Missouri said. "We're downloading our work for the first week of the year onto disks and will be able to do business as usual should there be any glitches."
In a few days, the clerks for the Howard County Circuit Court will print out copies of the court's docket for the first two weeks of January. This way, if there is a Y2K computer disruption, the court can continue with its schedule, officials said.
Court officials in some jurisdictions have also scheduled lighter caseloads than usual for the first week of 2000, either to reduce headaches in case of computer problems or, in the case of Prince George's Circuit Court, which scheduled no trials for the first week of the year, to keep as many police officers on the street as possible.
In Montgomery County, the Circuit Court will hear about 25 percent fewer cases Jan. 3 than on a typical day, though the court system's computer system has been tested and is ready for the new year, said Montgomery Circuit Court Administrator Pam Harris.
The lighter caseload will provide more scheduling flexibility if lawyers, witnesses and others involved in a case have trouble getting to court in case of power outages or transportation problems, court officials said.
Staff writer Raja Mishra contributed to this report.