Indiana’s e-filing project is at full steam just two years after the Supreme Court announced it would pursue a uniform, statewide system. By the end of 2018, all Indiana courts will have voluntary e-filing available, and attorneys will be required to electronically file most pleadings.
Twenty-first century pioneers
Change is difficult; progress is even harder. But that didn’t stop court and clerk officials in Hamilton County from volunteering to pilot e-filing. They were an early adopter of the state’s Odyssey case management system, so they understood the challenges and ultimate upshots of adopting new technology.
Soon after the e-filing pilot began in August 2015, Clerk Tammy Baitz and her Chief Deputy Debbie LePere noticed a laundry list of benefits, including:
- Less paper and fewer mailings
- Reduced postage costs
- Fewer demands to pull and circulate paper files
- Less danger of misplacing paperwork
“It’s a work in progress,” Clerk Baitz said about the evolving workflows in her office. But such a massive change in procedures means more work in the beginning: staff needs to be trained; attorneys need to be trained; filers have a different series of questions about procedure than in the past.
Judge William Hughes in Hamilton Superior Court 3 says the biggest difficulty is “getting filers to read the (e-filing user) guide and instructions to be sure they are in compliance.” Despite this challenge, Judge Hughes is optimistic. “Expect some pushback from attorneys until they actually use the system,” he advises, “After two weeks they will be asking why you waited so long to implement.”
From voluntary to mandatory
On July 1, 2016, e-filing became mandatory—with a few exceptions—in Hamilton County as well as in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Tax Court. It will become mandatory on September 1 in Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Hendricks, Henry, Madison, and Shelby counties, all of which began voluntary e-filing between January and May 2016.
So what are the exceptions?
- Unrepresented litigants are encouraged but not required to e-file. E-filing is only mandatory for attorneys.
- Filings that initiate a case are not required to be submitted electronically, but they are permitted in many trial court case types. Only subsequent filings in cases that already exist must be e-filed.
- Filings in protection order cases may not be e-filed.
- A Notice of Appeal may not be e-filed.
Some of these exceptions exist because of technical limitations that will be resolved with upcoming upgrades.
Helping attorneys get prepared
As courts prepare to accept electronically filed documents, attorneys must take initiative to learn how e-filing changes their own processes. Attorneys may have to change the way they format documents, and they also need to learn how to use the e-filing software.
So far, Indiana has certified five e-filing service providers, and each comes with its own set of features, offering attorneys, law firms, and the public a range of options. Choosing an e-filing provider is only one of the steps attorneys should take to get prepared. That said, no filer is locked into that choice indefinitely; users can switch at any time or use more than one provider simultaneously.
Courts and clerk’s offices are encouraged to promote the e-filing website to local attorneys. There, attorneys can access:
- A detailed E-filing User Guide, which outlines how to get started
- The most current versions of rules for e-filing
- Features offered by each e-filing provider
- Training and support resources available from each e-filing provider
- The list of courts with dates for voluntary and mandatory e-filing
- available at courts.in.gov/efile
Online access to case documents
Now that Indiana courts are moving away from paper, the question becomes, which of these electronic case documents should be made available online?
To help answer that question, the Supreme Court established an Advisory Task Force on Remote Access to and Privacy of Electronic Court Records. So far, the Task Force has recommended—and the Supreme Court has approved—posting both appellate briefs and motions to the web. These became available online on April 1 and July 1 respectively. Appellate orders and opinions have been posted online for years.
The task force is now evaluating the posting of documents in various trial court case types but has not yet made a recommendation to the Court.
As the task force continues its work, members must consider improving transparency and accountability while protecting confidentiality and individual privacy concerns.
Any case documents available online will be posted at mycase.in.gov.