A shutdown of Philadelphia court computers was in its second week Wednesday with no answers as to why it happened, when it will be fixed, or how much it will cost.
Officials said the websites and computer programs were shut down May 21 as a precaution after a virus was found on a limited number of computers, but they have not linked the shutdown to cyberattacks that reportedly have hit municipal computer systems in other U.S. cities.
“The First Judicial District continues to work closely with City OIT [Office of Innovation and Technology] to ensure the safety of our systems after being alerted of potential malware,” according to a statement by courts spokesperson Gabe Roberts. “As a precautionary measure the FJD website, employee email accounts, and electronic filing (e-file) have been temporarily suspended.
“While there is no definitive timetable for when systems will be fully operational, IT professionals are working diligently to restore services,” the statement said, noting that all of the city’s courts remain open as scheduled.
The statement did not explain what type of malicious software may have been found.
“To safeguard other systems,” the city court system and the Office of Innovation and Technology “shut down certain court IT functions to fully review and clean the operating systems,” a city spokesperson said last week. “This is a necessary step to contain the virus.”
The shutdown has had a greater impact on civil cases than criminal ones. Online criminal dockets, which are on a statewide portal system, are still accessible.
But the online civil docket search is not functioning and law firms that handle civil cases have had to send employees or bike couriers to City Hall to file motions and other documents with regularity this week and last.
Outside Room 296 in City Hall, where filings are done in civil Trial Division cases, Tevin Heilig, a mail room clerk at a Center City law firm, said Wednesday that things were calmer than Tuesday.
“It was hectic,” Heilig said, describing a line that stretched out the door and had people complaining.
Amber Iannuzzi, a paralegal at another Center City law firm, hurried out of the City Hall filing room Wednesday after trying to attach a legal document to a pretrial motion she filed Tuesday.
But “they can’t find the original” motion, she said, apparently because it was in a pile among other hand-delivered documents. “The stacks are ridiculous,” she said.
“It’s affected everything,” she said of the computer shutdown. “We have a trial beginning Monday.”
Roberts said it was not known whether what is affecting Philadelphia’s court computer systems might be related to what has been happening in other cities.
In Baltimore, the New York Times reported, a cyberattack has frozen thousands of computers and disrupted citywide services. “The Baltimore attack, on May 7, was a classic ransomware assault,” the Times wrote.
A key component of the malware used by the cyberattackers on Baltimore came from a cyber tool developed by the National Security Agency, which was stolen in 2017 and has been used by hackers around the world, the newspaper said.
“Hackers seem to have found a sweet spot in Baltimore, Allentown, Pa., San Antonio, and other local American governments, where public employees oversee tangled networks that often use out-of-date software,” the Times reported.
According to the First Judicial District, Trial Division civil filings are being accepted in person in Room 296 of City Hall; Municipal Court civil filings at the Widener Building, 1339 Chestnut St., 10th floor; Family Court filings at 1501 Arch St., eighth and 11th floors; and criminal filings in the Stout Center for Criminal Justice, second floor.