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City courts’ emails are back up, but other services still suspended since May 21 computer shutdown

A court spokesperson said he could not provide a timeline of when other computer services would be restored.

Philadelphia City Hall, in a file photo
Philadelphia City Hall, in a file photoRead moreMichael Bryant / File Photograph

Near the end of the third week of a computer shutdown affecting Philadelphia court websites and some electronic systems, employee email accounts were restored but other services remained suspended, a courts spokesperson said Thursday.

First Judicial District employees in City Hall could not yet access email on their work computers, but work stations have been set up elsewhere, spokesperson Gabe Roberts said.

He said he did not know when other services would be functioning. Employees of the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology, the First Judicial District, and an outside cyber security firm contracted by the city courts were working “to ensure the systems are safely restored as soon as possible,” he said.

The city courts’ websites and certain computer programs were shut down May 21 as a precaution after a virus was found on a limited number of computers. The precautionary shutdown has affected landlord-tenant cases, property title searches, sheriff’s property sales, the online civil docket search, and the electronic filing system for civil and criminal cases.

Roberts said he could not comment on the type of virus that affected the computers or how much was expected to be spent to remedy the issue. Officials have not linked the shutdown to cyber attacks that hit municipal computer systems in other U.S. cities, including Baltimore.

Still, the shutdown continued to disrupt routines Thursday.

Peg Palys, who hadn’t been informed of the shutdown, went to the 10th floor filing counter for landlord-tenant cases at 1339 Chestnut St. to file documents as a first step to get a tenant who hadn’t paid rent for five months evicted from a property owned by her husband, Joe.

She was told she couldn’t pay a $116 filing fee by credit card as usual, but had to pay in cash because the computer system was down. So she had to walk four blocks to a bank. Upon her return, she was told she’d have to wait as long as two hours to learn the eviction hearing date.

Harry Sher, a Center City civil attorney who went to City Hall on Thursday to file a hard copy of a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who was injured at a suburban mall against a Philadelphia company affiliated with the mall, said the shutdown had made things “more complicated.” With the civil docket moved offline, he was unable to search other lawsuits filed against the company, which he declined to name.

At the Stout Center for Criminal Justice, defense attorney James Berardinelli left the second-floor counter for appellate filings looking none too happy.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “Things that you would normally do with a couple of clicks of a mouse, you’re spending an hour and a half.”

He recently had been appointed as appellate counsel on a homicide case, on which a judge had denied a Post Conviction Relief Act appeal. Normally, he would have been able to sit in his Center City office and retrieve the judge’s opinion and other documents electronically.

But on Thursday, he said, he had to go from the second-floor counter to the clerk’s office on the third floor, then back down to the second floor as court staffers initially didn’t know where he needed to go to obtain the case documents. And then, he said, he had to wait in line.