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October 1, 2013
E-service underway

Free online training sessions are available

Gary Blankenship
Senior Editor

Automatic electronic service of documents filed in Florida courts through the statewide e-filing portal is starting.

Alert your email spam filter.

The Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, which oversees the portal operation, got a preview of the new e-service system at its September 16 meeting.

The authority also approved a change to its underlying agreement with court clerks and the state court system to allow expansion of its help desk operation, which was overwhelmed when civil trial court e-filing began in April.

Carolyn Weber, portal project business manager, told authority board members that e-service will go into production beginning on Friday, September 27, (after this News went to press) so it will be available for use on Monday September 30.

The authority is posting two training videos as well as a manual on its website, myflcourtaccess.com, and is offering five online training sessions, which began September 19 and run through October 9. Links to the online seminars are on the “E-filing Resources” page under the Member Benefits link on the Bar’s website.

Weber said the e-service system is set up to provide flexibility and control for attorneys doing e-filing. She noted when an attorney first registered through the portal to do e-filing, that attorney established a profile with up to three email addresses. When the attorney becomes involved in a case, those addresses will automatically be used for electronic service, unless the attorney specifies otherwise.

The attorney will have the ability to specify up to three replacement email addresses for the profile email address when opening a case or filing a document in the case, Weber said, which will give the attorneys flexibility. For example, she said if a particular legal assistant or paralegal has been assigned to work on a case, then that staffer’s email can be added and he or she will be copied with all filings. Likewise, if a client has requested to be copied with all filings, then the client’s email can be added.

All parties who have filed documents in a case have email addresses included on the e-service list for that case. When an attorney files a new document, everyone on the list will automatically get a copy, Weber said. The attorney can also specify which parties on the list will be copied, if all parties do not have to be served.

An attorney cannot remove names from the list unless that attorney added them. If an attorney uses his or her profile email for e-service and then changes that profile email address, the new address will automatically be updated for all cases in which they are involved, Weber said.

The e-service components will be at the end of the e-filing process in most counties, which use a fairly extensive system of pull-down menus and choices for lawyers filing documents. For the few counties that use the “simple” e-filing process, where everything is on one electronic page, the e-service components will be at the bottom of that page, she said.

Weber also said that e-service will work with batch case filing systems for state attorneys and public defenders.

The e-service process complies with the Rules of Judicial Administration. Those require that all e-service notifications contain the words, “SERVICE OF COURT DOCUMENT” in capital letters in the email subject line, and inclusion of the case number.

That, noted authority member and Supreme Court Clerk Tom Hall, might cause some problems, as some email spam filter software is set to snag emails with identical or similar words in the subject lines and subject lines in all capital letters. He said lawyers should address that issue to prevent complications.

In response to a question, Weber said e-service will be a help to judges who will have email addresses to distribute orders and rulings electronically.

On the help desk, authority General Counsel Lynn Hoshihara presented an agreement worked out between the authority, the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, and the Office of the State Courts Administrator. (The authority was created to run the portal under an interlocal agreement among the FCCC and the state courts system.)

The agreement will allow the authority to use any revenue from convenience it receives when lawyers pay for filing through the portal to hire additional personnel for its help desk. It will also allow the authority to spend the money on education programs about the portal and e-filing.

The authority board unanimously approved the agreement. It was not immediately clear when the help desk would be expanded or how many positions would be added. In a request to the Legislature for funds earlier this year, the authority sought more than $1 million, with most of that request to fund 10 positions for a help desk. The funding was not included in the General Appropriations Act this year.

The help desk was overwhelmed with calls when civil e-filing became mandatory on April 1, and at one point it took days for lawyers to get a response.

Jennifer Fishback, portal project manager, reported at the September 16 meeting that calls to the help desk continue to decline, which she attributed to lawyers becoming more familiar with the filing process and a software update that streamlined filing and eliminated some of the early problems.

However, she said the help desk still received 7,101 calls in August., or 315 per day. Fishback reported that more than 50,000 Bar members have now registered for electronic filing through the portal.

[Revised: 08-11-2014]