Courts process, file, access and eventually, store paper, lots of it. It is cumbersome, time-consuming, labor-intensive, and expensive to make paper products, to copy documents, to mail pleadings and notices, to maintain open files, and to store closed files. Lawyers, judges, and clerks, have all wondered: will this avalanche of paper ever end?
The answer is a resounding YES!
Thanks to advances in electronic technology, and a forward-looking Supreme Court, there is a framework in place in Indiana to move away from paper filings. It is set forth in Administrative Rule 16, which authorizes courts to establish an electronic filing or an electronic service pilot project. We are at the beginning stages in our Indiana trial courts, and we are cautiously and prudently moving forward. Many successful business have used a “crawl, walk, run” philosophy when implementing new marketing, sales and production plans. Our courts are employing this winning strategy in transitioning from a paper filing system of handling pleadings and documents to an electronic filing system.
This past December the Indiana Supreme Court approved separate requests by the Lake County and the Marion County courts to implement an electronic filing system on a limited and trial basis. Lake and Marion are the first counties to implement an electronic filing system under Administrative Rule 16. Each county intends in 2010 to accept pleadings and court documents, and to send notices, by electronic means. Lake County is scheduled to begin their pilot project in February. They will limit electronic filing to only mortgage foreclosure cases. Mortgage foreclosure filings are randomly assigned to each court in Lake County, so the plan will be effective in all courtrooms.
Marion County will allow for electronic filing in both mortgage foreclosure cases and civil collection cases. Thirteen courtrooms will allow electronic filings: Marion Circuit Court and Marion Superior Court, Civil Divisions One through Seven, and Ten through Fourteen.
Many court observers predict that all courts will one day use Electronic-Filing and Electronic-Service.
In each county, all registered users of the electronic filing system will be able to remotely access documents in mortgage foreclosure cases. But, in Marion County, only the registered users who are actual parties to a collection case will be able to remotely access court documents.
Registered users include attorneys, members of the news media, commercial users (such as title companies, banks, and mortgage companies), judges and their staff, court administrative staff and technical support staff, and self-represented litigants, who enter into a User Agreement with the court.
Lake County will utilize a self-contained system to file and serve documents in the court’s case management system, CourtView, through their Lake County Online Docket (LCOD). Marion County will utilize the services of the Lexis-Nexis File & Serve System (LNFS), an outside vendor.
In both counties registered users must sign an agreement and pay fees to utilize the electronic filing and service system. Each county plan protects confidential information and sealed documents as required by Administrative Rule 9. Both plans also provide assistance to self-represented litigants who choose to utilize the electronic filing system. There are opt-out provisions for parties who want to use traditional paper filings and service.
The Lake County judges, under the leadership of Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo, Superior Court Judge Jeffery J. Dywan and Superior Court Judge John R. Pera, presented their original electronic filing plan in June 2007. They requested a delay in the review of their plan due to an unfortunate flooding situation within their judicial buildings that directly affected the courts’ computers. In May 2009, they amended their original proposal and resubmitted it asking for Supreme Court approval.
Marion County judges, under the leadership of Circuit Court Judge Louis F. Rosenberg, Superior Court Judge Heather A. Welch, and Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Carroll, first submitted their electronic filing plan in June 2009. They amended their plan after consultations with State Court Administration staff and Supreme Court approval was granted. The Indianapolis Bar Association submitted to the Indiana Supreme Court a letter of enthusiastic support for the E-Filing pilot project. Marion County judges are finalizing their local court rules to implement the electronic filing system and are putting the final touches on the details of the plan.
The necessary elements of a Proposed Plan to Implement Electronic Filing or an Electronic Service Pilot Project are set forth in the Appendix to Administrative Rule 16. Several elements should be emphasized.
Each proposal should identify the hardware and software needed for both the court and the registered users. Courts should limit and specify which case types will be eligible for electronic filing. Courts should consider the anticipated users, and the potential for use by pro se litigants, and plan accordingly. And, courts should set parameters and safeguards for management of the project.
Each proposed project must specify how original documents will be maintained and archived. The security of the electronic system is of critical importance, both for the integrity of the project and the court record. Courts should carefully consider the method for distributing user identification names and passwords, including provisions for pro se litigants. Because the use of a password is the equivalent of a signature, security measures must be in place to protect the registration process. All registered users must sign agreements acknowledging the sensitivity of the passwords.
Electronic-Service proposals must meet the proof of service requirements under Trial Rule 5. Proposals must address compliance with Administrative Rule 9, including how documents will be sealed and content redacted. There must be an option to opt out of electronic filing and utilize traditional paper filing and service.
The court must also set out the local rules under Trial Rule 81 that will govern the pilot project. The rules must address all the required components of the system that affect the users, including identification of case types, eligibility of users, security, and service compliance. The local court rules must include any forms needed to participate in the system.
Many court observers predict that all courts will one day use Electronic-Filing and Electronic-Service. A few jurisdictions have already implemented a statewide system, including: Colorado, Delaware, and Minnesota. For several years most of the federal courts have been linked to PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). It is a system maintained by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, with a separate URL for each Court. It includes federal district, appellate and bankruptcy courts. Their website can be found at pacer.psc.uscourts.gov.
Technology presents our Indiana courts with some exciting opportunities. We hope that many courts take advantage of the opportunity to begin a pilot project. We are ready, willing and eager to assist our courts in setting up a project that meets the requirements of Administrative Rule 16. While we know that one size does not fit all counties, we are developing a model for other counties that want to establish an electronic-filing plan. We will work to serve the individual needs of our courts on a county-by-county basis.
We are here to serve your needs and help you develop a workable system that fits the needs of your county. Please contact either of us for assistance at: 317-252-2542 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.