By Gary Blankenship
Court clerks on the Florida E-Filing Authority want a statewide uniform procedure for handling erroneous or incomplete filings from attorneys and others as part of the new statewide court electronic filing system.
The authority met February 15 in Tallahassee to work on a variety of issues related to the new statewide portal for accepting electronically filed court documents, including standards for time stamping e-filed documents and how clerks review documents to determine if they comply with e-filing standards.
Those standards are set by the Florida Courts Technology Commission, but the commission has asked the authority for its input and for refinements that will help the system operate better.
The authority is charged with operating the internet portal through which filings are made. The authority board includes eight county court clerks and the Supreme Court clerk.
The statewide system began accepting e-filings through the statewide portal on January 3.
Melvin Cox of the Florida Association of Court Clerks, who is doing the development work for the portal, presented the FCTC’s filing standards and noted the commission has invited the authority’s input on those.
Authority members said they were concerned with a standard requiring the clerks to “examine the [e-filed] submission and determine whether it complies with e-filing requirements.”
Authority member and Supreme Court Clerk Tom Hall said that standard could require clerks to treat electronic filings differently than those filed by paper.
“This seems to be invading the province of what the clerk does ministerially,” he said. “It’s not a lot different in my mind than when I get a document that’s mailed to me or Fed Exed; I don’t treat it any differently.”
Leon County Court Clerk Bob Inzer, another member of the board, said the standards are an opportunity that the authority, the FCTC, and clerks should seize.
“We absolutely have an opportunity to do standardization and we cannot miss that opportunity, and we have an opportunity to gain efficiency,” Inzer said. “I think we ought to make a recommendation where we can simplify the process for us, the courts, and the filer.”
The question is an important one for lawyers as a rejected filing could have implications on whether an attorney has met time standards in law or rules.
Clerks said problems could be filing in the wrong county, using the wrong case number, and submitting a corrupted electronic document which is consequently unreadable.
“If we reject the document, that starts over the time limits, that somehow cancels the time stamp, that’s the main issue,” said Bay County Clerk Bill Kinsaul. “It starts the clock over.”
Others said a filer may be able to correct a faulty document in some cases without having to refile and hence preserving the original time stamp.
They expressed concern about any system that would not inform a filer that there was a problem with an electronic submission, although Laird Lile, a member of the Bar Board of Governors and the FCTC, told the authority board that ultimately any filing mistakes are the responsibility of attorneys making the submission.
“If the document is corrupted, certainly you want to notify the filer that it’s illegible,” said Sarasota County Clerk Karen Rushing.
The authority board voted to set up a subcommittee along with FCTC members to explore how to handle problem documents.
On a related matter, the board said it should be up to individual clerks whether they want to place a second visible time stamp on an electronically filed document to indicate when it is accepted by the clerks. One stamp will automatically be placed on the document by the portal when it is submitted by the filer and that is the one that will control whether a filing meets any applicable deadlines.
Inzer noted that even if a visible stamp isn’t placed on the record when the clerk accepts it, that time will still be available in the clerk’s computer records.
Aside from discussing time stamps and filing standards, the authority also got an update on the e-filing progress. The statewide system began accepting e-filings through the statewide portal on January 3.
On e-filing, Cox reported that for the first six weeks the portal was open, a total of 552 filing were made, with the vast majority coming in the final two weeks of that period as filers and clerks became more comfortable with the system and worked out bugs. Those figures were from the first nine counties where the e-filing system was initiated.