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October 1, 2012
Should support staff be able to e-file for their attorneys?

52 counties accepting e-filings in all five civil divisions

Use of electronic filing of court documents continues to rise steadily, although it’s still used by only a small minority of lawyers in a small fraction of all cases.

Fifty-two counties now have the ability to accept filings in all five civil divisions, and the remaining 15 have plans in place for accepting all civil filings, according to Levi Owens.

Owens is in charge of helping clerks convert from paper to electronic filing through the new statewide Internet portal. He reported progress recently to the Florida E-Filing Authority Board, which manages the portal.

There have been more than 100,000 electronic filings with the courts this year, Owens said.

The year began with filings in about 1,200 cases per week, and that has now risen to 6,000 per week, he noted, adding, “We continue to trend ever upward.”

More than 12,000 attorneys have registered to do electronic filing, and more than 3,500 are active users.

Circuit civil accounts for the largest segment of the electronic filings, Owens said, making up 43 percent. Family law cases make up 21 percent, and probate accounts for 16 percent.

Only four counties are accepting electronic filings in criminal cases, he said, but those make up 8 percent of the total.

The Supreme Court has set a deadline requiring that all trial court civil cases must be filed through the portal as of April 1, 2013. All criminal cases must be electronically filed by October 1, 2013.

After getting the update, the board discussed several related issues, including:

* Standardizing docket codes before most counties implement e-filing for criminal cases to ease that process. Owens said the authority’s Best Practices Workgroup is making it a priority.

* Reiterating the initial priority is getting attorneys connected to the portal and doing electronic filing before expanding access to others, including agencies — such as police departments — that have to file paperwork with the courts, mediators, expert witnesses, and pro se litigants.

* Whether lawyers should be able to give their portal log-ons and passwords to support staff for the filing of documents.

Tom Morris, representing state attorneys, said, with the paper system, state attorneys use lower-paid support staff to batch process paperwork to clerks, but without giving the attorney’s credentials to support staff, it would prove cumbersome if the attorneys had to individually send each document.

“It’s a shift of work from our clerical staff back on to our attorneys, and I don’t think that’s the best use of their time,” he said.

But authority member Tom Hall, clerk of the Supreme Court, said the authority had already looked at that issue and decided it was a matter to be decided by The Florida Bar.

Bar Board of Governors member Laird Lile, who was observing the meeting, told the authority that the Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee was set to consider the matter at the Bar’s Midyear Meeting.

[Revised: 04-14-2014]