By Gary Blankenship
Pensacola attorney Katie White is a bit frustrated.
The firm she works for, McDonald Fleming Moorhead, has a statewide probate practice, and she and registered paralegal Marie Stoner have done electronic filings all over Florida since e-filing became mandatory in civil cases on April 1.
Or, perhaps more accurately, they’ve tried to do e-filing all over the state.
“We’re seeing [county-to-county] variations on basic things like: Do you file the proposed orders at all? Do you send paper copies? Do you attach it to the pleadings?” White said.
Added Stoner: “In Santa Rosa and Escambia counties, they have an option [on the portal filing menus] to submit a proposed order or letter or administration. Other counties do not have that [menu] option. I’ve been quoted the statute [by those other counties] that you must send the paper of the proposed order to the clerk. What’s the point of e-filing if you still have to send the paper order to the court?”
White picked up the story: “Some counties, if you send the paper order, they send it back and say, ‘E-file it first.’ Some want it attached to the end of petitions; some don’t.”
All in all, White and Stoner have found it frustrating with county-to-county variations in how e-filing is performed, from differences in menus each county uses on the statewide Internet portal, through which filing is done, to different procedures. They’ve begun keeping a list, dubbed “county quirks,” to help them keep track of the differences for filing in each county.
Eleanor Aguilar, a registered paralegal for the Ft. Lauderdale law firm Greenspoon Marder, understands the frustration. That law firm handles a wide variety of civil cases and does some statewide filing, although most of its cases are in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties .
She had a long list of gripes, including:
* Palm Beach and Miami-Dade require that summons be delivered by hand — wiping out the advantages of e-filing — while Broward County accepts them electronically.
* It can take days or weeks for an electronic filing to be acknowledged or for a case number to be assigned for a new case in some counties. In one instance, Aguilar said she filed a notice to cancel a case management hearing a week ahead of time, only to have the judge call up and want to know where the parties were because it hadn’t been processed by the hearing date.
* Portal menus differ between counties. Some have long, complex choices and others are oversimplified without enough options. Some requirements are just baffling. “Hillsborough County is the only one that has a request for division assignment,” she said. “Nobody knows what that is and you can’t file unless you have that form. . . . Some counties want forms and some of these forms no one has ever heard of.”
* “They have things named differently in each county, so if I go from Pasco to Broward, the forms are not the same.”
“You need conformity,” Aguilar concluded. “Tell them to fix this.”
Stoner, the Pensacola paralegal, listened via teleconference to the Florida Courts E-filing Authority Board meeting on May 23, at White’s behest. She was encouraged that the authority board, of which eight of the nine members are county clerks of court, voted to suggest a template for clerks to organize their portal presence even if it doesn’t produce complete conformity for all counties.
“We realize they are as frustrated as we are. They don’t want to be answering calls every day on how to file proposed orders,” White said. “Once they get the inconsistencies fixed, we can certainly keep up with the small differences. We feel good about them implementing some changes in the next six to 12 months that are going to make this much more palatable than it is right now.”