The new service is being phased in slowly
By Gary Blankenship
Florida’s giant leap into electronic filing for the Florida court system began with some careful baby steps this month, as service was phased in for nine counties in the first days of the new year.
The first case was filed Tuesday, January 4, a probate and guardian case in Lake County. Columbia County got its first case the following morning.
“I was contacted by the local clerk, Neil Kelly, just before the holidays, and he asked me if I would be interested in testing it out and seeing how it worked and then getting back to them,” said Eustis attorney Michael J. Rogers. He said he had worked with the clerk’s office before on a program that put public records online.
He said his paralegal, Betty Radecki, did most of the work, and he bought a scanner to help with the process.
“I’m not a technical person, so I was a little bit reluctant, but so far so good,” he said.
Radecki said she worked with Denise Bell in the clerk’s office who provided step-by-step guidance on the registration and filing process, which she found easy. One issue arose over the quality of a notary stamp.
“We resolved that issue and all of that was part of the testing phase before we actually sent the document itself. Once we resolved that issue, it was very simple, very easy, and very quick. I received both my confirmation and acceptance [from the clerk] in a very short time and was able — in a matter of minutes — to go in through the website and see my document,” Radecki said. “It was very exciting.”
Kelly, the Lake County clerk, said, “Tuesday afternoon was an exciting time in the Lake County Clerk’s Office as we accepted our first electronic court filing. It is great to see the tremendous amount of work on the part of so many partners come to fruition. The e-filing process is going to be more efficient and cost-effective for everyone.”
Aside from Lake and Columbia counties, court clerks in Duval, Gulf, Holmes, Lee, Miami-Dade, Putnam, and Walton counties were the ones who initially signed on for the e-filing program. The Legislature mandated that e-filing begin by January 1, and Florida courts and clerks have worked together to establish a statewide Internet portal through which the filings can be accomplished. Not all of the nine counties were immediately accepting cases when the portal opened, as some were being phased in during the first week.
Miami-Dade, Walton, and Putnam counties were getting ready to receive cases as of January 6, as this News went to press. More counties are expected to be added to the e-filing service soon. For the first 90 days, cases must be filed by paper as well as electronically in case there are glitches with the system.
As of early January, more than 550 attorneys had set up e-filing accounts. Many attorneys have registered so that they are ready when the counties they practice in most are added to the portal.
The portal is run by the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, under a joint agreement between the courts and the Florida Association of Court Clerks.
“On behalf of the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, I am pleased to announce to Florida that the portal is up and running. It works, and that is a tribute to all those who have worked on this effort — from the courts, to the clerks, the association technical staff, and really, the local lawyers who had the faith to be among the first in the state to try out this new process. We believe the 90-day paper follow-up period, as required by rule 2.525, is helpful to allow us to check what was filed, but that time will pass quickly,” said P. Dewitt Cason, Columbia clerk of the court and chair of the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority.
The Florida E-Filing Authority was scheduled to meet January 11 to discuss the initial e-filing implementation.
Staffing and technical support for the authority and the portal are being provided by the Florida Association of Court Clerks. The Supreme Court’s Florida Court Technology Commission oversees standards for filing, designing a process that captures essential data so clerks and judges can manage cases and court records. So far, the FCTC has cleared five of the 10 trial court divisions to accept e-filed cases: circuit civil, county civil, probate, family, and juvenile dependency.
Columbia and Duval are accepting filings in probate only, Gulf in all five areas, Holmes in all five, Lake initially in probate and then expanding to others, Lee in all probate and some civil, Miami-Dade in all five, Putnam in all five, and Walton in all five.
Clerks in the designated counties have been working with selected attorneys — such as Rogers — as “pilot filers” to smooth out the process.
The portal can be found online at www.myflcourtaccess.com. Users must register, and after registration, a page will tell attorneys which counties are accepting e-filing and what kinds of cases they are accepting. Lawyers will also be kept apprised via the portal as more and more counties join the e-filing system and more divisions are added to the program.
The portal has a support e-mail for lawyers to use, but officials said the focus now is on getting the system operational and working with the local “test” firms. They also asked that lawyers not contact support services merely to ask when their county will join the e-filing system, as notices will be posted online.