The Florida Court E-Filing Authority is exploring participation in a survey by the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice on the needs of self-represented litigants in Florida courts.
The e-filing board, on September 22, also heard a request to extend the November 1 deadline for 12 applicants to finish their “batch” filing software for civil cases. The authority administers the court system’s statewide portal for electronic filing
Francisco-Javier Digon-Greer, a Bar employee who works with the Access Commission, said the commission has developed a survey for pro so litigants to determine their knowledge about the Florida court system and its processes and what help they need in handling their cases. Although the survey is on the commission’s website (with a link to it on the Bar’s website), he said the commission was waiting until it was made permanent — which the Supreme Court did on August 24 — before actively promoting it.
The commission is asking the authority board to put a “button” on the online portal site to link pro se filers to the survey. According to authority records, pro se litigants filed 6,368 documents in August and 45,788 people have registered as pro se filers.
Digon-Greer also asked the authority board to recommend the state’s 67 clerks of court put links to the survey on their individual websites.
The board unanimously approved a motion to ask its staff to investigate the technical issues related to putting the link on the portal, and report at the board’s next meeting on November 14. The motion included recommending that clerks of court link to the survey on their sites.
“This information from the survey will be extremely useful both to the clerks and the court and our joint efforts on the Access Commission,” said State Courts Administrator PK Jameson.
Digon-Greer said that, without any promotion, only about 25 pro se users had discovered and taken the online survey. Most of those said they had little or no knowledge about court procedures, did not know where to find help, that it was their first time going to court on a personal matter, and they were suffering from financial hardships.
The batch filing project aims at allowing lawyers to file multiple documents in multiple cases during one filing session on the portal, similar to what state attorneys and public defenders do in criminal cases. Earlier in the summer, the authority board invited private entities to apply to develop software that would work with the portal’s programming to allow civil batch filing. Four law firms, seven private companies (including three process serving companies), and the Attorney General’s Child Support Enforcement office filed to develop programs.
Two additional companies have filed for the second phase of applications.
Private companies are developing batch processing programs, hoping to market that service to law firms.
The invitation required an application fee and set a November 1 deadline for finishing the software. However, at the September 22 meeting, representatives from two companies said they were still awaiting responses to their technical inquiries (that time period includes when Hurricane Hermine caused office closings in Tallahassee, where the authority is located). They asked the board to push the November deadline back by 30 to 60 days.
Authority Chair Tim Smith said he would look into those delays and call a special board meeting, if necessary, to consider the extension. The specifications of the batch processing proposal include that none of the first phase of applicants will be able to begin batch filing until all have completed their programming.