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October 1, 2013
Criminal e-filing starts slowly

Most state attorneys, PDs seek extensions

By Gary Blankenship
Senior Editor

All but one county will be ready for private criminal defense attorneys to do electronic filings on their cases as of October 1, according to the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority.

The authority, through the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers (which provides staffing for the authority), compiled a list of county clerks of court who are ready to accept electronic filings in criminal cases through the court system’s statewide Internet portal.

All but Hillsborough County are ready to accept “single session” filings, which includes those done by private attorneys.The delay in Hillsborough County had been expected because of new case management software being installed.

Most state attorneys and public defenders, according to the information compiled by their respective associations for the authority, are seeking an extension of the October 1 deadline because they or their local clerks are not ready to do “batch” filings. That system allows those agencies to file multiple documents in multiple cases in one session.

Fourteen of the 20 state attorneys requested a delay in meeting the deadline, as did 14 public defenders.

Four state attorneys said they were ready for electronic filing, and five public defenders indicated they were ready. Two state attorneys representing multi-county circuits said they were ready to go in some of their counties but not others, as did one public defender.

The Supreme Court had set October 1 as the deadline for beginning criminal filings in the trial courts, but the court and authority have acknowledged, because of the complex and numerous challenges related to criminal filings, that some delays will be necessary.

The authority has compiled a list of who is ready to begin criminal filings by October 1. That list includes local courts, clerks, state attorneys, and public defenders. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston has said the court will allow delays, as long as those local agencies are working diligently to implement electronic filing.

At a September 16 meeting of the authority, Chair Tim Smith, clerk of the court for Putnam County, said he anticipated the list would be submitted to Polston the following day. He noted that if there were a last-minute change, clerks, state attorneys, and public defenders could submit an individual request to the court seeking an extension.

The authority, which manages the portal, will be providing and updating the list on its website, as more clerks, state attorneys, and public defenders reach the ability to accept civil filings and in case a last-minute hiccup causes an unexpected delay (www.myflcourtaccess.com).

Of particular interest to private practitioners will be the clerks’ readiness. No filing on a criminal case, by private attorneys, state attorneys, or public defenders, can occur until the clerks are set up to handle the filings. For private practitioners, when clerks are ready will determine when they can begin the mandated electronic filings.

At the September 16 authority meeting, Jennifer Fishback, portal project manager, reported that 24 counties were accepting some criminal e-filings ahead of the October 1 deadline.

For state attorneys and public defenders, clerk readiness may be a two-part question. That’s because clerks will eventually be able to accept criminal filings in both single session filing and batch filing. Single session is less complicated than batch filing and many counties are expected to allow single session filing before batch filing.

Single-session filing is what private practitioners will do and allows for filing documents one case at a time. Batch filing, available for public defenders and state attorneys, allows for filing multiple documents in multiple cases at one time. While some public defenders have said they are at least initially ready to proceed with single session filing, most state attorneys have indicated they cannot proceed with electronic filing until batch filing is available. (State attorneys requested a blanket delay from the October 1 deadline, but that was refused by Polston. See story in the September 15 News.)

The readiness list was assembled by the authority so the court could issue an administrative order delaying the implementation of e-filing where necessary. That order was anticipated as this News went to press. It’s anticipated that e-filing will begin when county clerks of court are ready and when any other entity in that county is ready. For example, if the courts, clerks, and public defenders are ready, but the state attorney is not in a particular county, it’s expected the order delaying the start of e-filing will apply only to the state attorney’s office.

At News press time, as noted before, all county clerks of court will be ready to accept single session e-filing, except for Hillsborough.

Among prosecutors and state attorneys in the First, 11th, 14th, and 17th circuits said they were ready for electronic filing, with the First, 11th, and the 14th using single session filing and the 17th ready for batch filing. State attorneys in the 12th and 20th circuits reported they were ready in some of their counties. In the 20th Circuit, Collier and Lee counties were ready, while Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties requested extensions. In the 12th, Manatee was ready while Sarasota and DeSoto were not.

All other state attorneys requested an extension.

Among public defenders, those in the Second, Fourth, Ninth, 14th, and 18th circuits said they were ready; the Second and 14th with single session filing, and the Fourth, Ninth, and 18th with single session and batch filing. Like the local prosecutor, the public defender for the 20th Circuit reported being ready in Collier and Lee counties (with batch filing in both) but not in Charlotte, Glades, or Hendry counties.

The last piece of the electronic court system is getting special “judicial viewers” for judges to receive, see, and manage their electronic paper workload. Only a handful of counties — Santa Rosa, Walton, Duval, Lake, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Sarasota, and Palm Beach — reported having judicial viewers on hand and ready. (See story on judicial viewers on page 6 in this News.)

Interestingly, no county has all four pieces in place — clerks ready to receive criminal electronic filings, state attorneys and public defenders ready to file electronically, and judges ready to receive the cases on judicial viewers.

A few counties have clerks ready to receive electronic filings, as well as both state attorneys and public defenders ready to file them: Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington counties — all in the 14th Circuit — and Collier and Lee counties in the 20th Circuit. The state attorney and public defender in the 14th Circuit will be using single session filing, while Collier and Lee will have batch filing.

[Revised: 02-01-2014]