VirtualCourthouse; Issue 3.4
The Elements of Electronic Filing
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Journal/Newsletter
Electronic filing is the transmission by computer of a court pleading to the Clerk of the Court. The filing should contain all necessary case management and financial information in electronic format. It should facilitate electronic document management for the litigant, the lawyer, the clerk and the court. The elements of electronic filing are: (i) electronic transmission; (ii) case management integration; (iii) financial information integration; (iv) work process integration; (v) jurisdictional and regional diversity; (vi) supports dispute resolution; and (vii) litigation community input.
A lot of energy and emotion is expended on electronic filing systems that are focused on the Internet. The key to this element is the movement of the electronic document from one place to another. This can be accomplished on the Internet but it can also be accomplished on a telephone line or a wide area network (WAN). Care must be taken to analyze the pluses and minuses of each method. Areas of analysis should include cost, security, stability/dependability. Analysis should also include the impact of the method chosen on the remaining elements. For instance, will the use of the Internet as opposed to a WAN support or deter financial information integration? The transmission being only one of seven elements should not allow the “political correctness” of the Internet to blind consideration of other elements.
Case Management Integration
The redundancy of the input of the same information at numerous stages of the process must be eliminated. A well-designed electronic filing system captures case management information electronically. Staff time for the input of information is kept to a minimum.
Financial Information Integration
Perhaps the most time consuming and staff consuming part of the process for filing court papers both in the law office and the court is financial. In the law office, the lawyer must go through the bookkeeper to get a filing check. In the court, the clerk has to record the check, issue a receipt and send the check to the accounting department. There should be only one step in the law office and one step in the court, both electronic.
Work Process Integration
The filing of court documents is process driven and not detail driven. One must first identify the flow of INFORMATION IN and then the flow of INFORMATION OUT. This element could be the greatest cost saving for both the lawyer and the court.
JusticeLINK, the national electronic filing pilot, overwhelmingly demonstrated that the time savings could exceed 25 percent. In the Clerk’s Office, clerical steps for the docketing of a motor tort were reduced from 168 steps to 122 steps. In a foreclosure case, 122 steps were reduced to 97 steps. In the lawyer’s office, the savings were determined to be in excess of $15,000 per lawyer.
Supports Dispute Resolution
Often the focus on the electronic transmission of the document clouds the main mission of the courts — to decide cases fairly, impartially and expeditiously. The case file is only one element of information a judge needs to decide a case. It must be integrated with the law and the facts — the other elements.
Litigation Community Input
A large and diverse group of individuals are affected by the electronic filing of pleadings. The impact of a system on these groups must be sought and considered. They include: (i) lawyers, (ii) judges, (iii) clerks of court, (iv) court administrators, (v) litigators, (vi) rules committees/policy makers, (vii) law librarians, and (viii) law schools
Jurisdictional and Regional Diversity
The great temptation is to concentrate on statewide systems. After all, the argument goes: It is better to deal with just 50 systems. This analysis ignores the reality of jurisdictional diversity and the necessity of regional diversity. Few if any states are capable of a “one-size-shoe” fix for all of the courts of the state. Limited jurisdiction courts, for instance, have a work process, case management, and financial information need that is different from general jurisdiction courts, which differs from appellate courts. The diversity between state courts and federal courts adds yet another challenge. Finally, the diversity between several states within a region of states provides an additional hurdle. Many courts already have mature systems, which cannot be radically changed. Finally, the litigants’ needs — the most important — do not stop at state, county or federal lines. An electronic filing system must be flexible enough to accommodate this diversity.
Funny Pleadings and Things:
A United States District Court Judge from Oklahoma was pushed over the edge by a group of argumentative lawyers when he issued the following order:
“Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative, to Continue Trial is denied. If the recitals in the briefs from both sides are accepted at face value neither side has conducted discovery according to the letter and spirit of the Oklahoma County Bar Association Lawyer’s Creed. This is an aspirational creed not subject to enforcement by this Court, but violative conduct does call for judicial disapprobation at least. If there is a hell to which disputatious, uncivil, vituperative lawyers go, let it be one in which the damned are eternally locked in discovery disputes with other lawyers of equally repugnant attributes.”
By Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt -April 1998