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May 15, 2011
Board wants to talk with lawyers about their staffs using the e-portal

The agency that oversees the portal for electronic filing for Florida courts is looking for input from lawyers about how law firms’ staff — particularly nonlawyers — can access the filing system.

The Florida E-Filing Authority Board, at its meeting last month, set up a subcommittee to study who in a law firm can actually do electronic filing through the portal and how it will be done.

Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock, a member of the authority board, noted that lawyers access the e-filing system by using their Bar attorney number and that it’s likely that paralegals and legal assistants will eventually take over much of the electronic filing in a law office.

“With that duty is a lot of responsibility,” Bock said, noting the authority is responsible for security and managing the system. But if the authority sets up stringent rules, including about who can access the system, “then what we’re really doing is deciding how the law firm is going to be running their business.”

Melvin Cox, who is overseeing the implementation of the e-filing system, said it’s natural for attorneys to want their paralegals and legal assistants to be able to log on. Right now the only way is for them to use the lawyer’s ID and password, “which is not a good security practice.”

But giving nonlawyer staff access with their own passwords can also create problems, especially if they leave the firm but still have access to the firm’s filings through the portal.

A related issue, Cox said, is that the system now allows a law firm to designate an “administrator” who has access through the portal to all the firm’s filings and can authorize or deauthorize members of the firm to make filings.

If that’s not carefully controlled, he said, someone could pose as an administrator and gain access to the firm’s files. That raises the question of whether an extra layer of security is needed for such administrators and, if so, how that would be done, Cox said.

Another related question, Bock said, is how pro se parties will be given access to the portal and the e-filing system.

The board voted to establish a subcommittee to study the access issues. Members will include Bock, fellow board member Jim Jett, and Bar Board of Governors member Laird Lile, who serves on the Supreme Court’s Florida Courts Technology Commission and is an informal liaison to the e-filing board. The subcommittee is expected to include other lawyers and paralegals.

Lile said opinions from lawyers on who should have access to the e-filing system will be sought. (Lile said lawyers can send comments to him at at llile@lairdalile.com.)

On other matters, the portal board:

• Agreed to include a “check box” on electronic filings for lawyers to indicate that confidential information, as defined in Rule of Judicial Administration 2.240, is included in a submission so the clerk knows to restrict access to that information.

• Heard members express reservations about a push by state attorneys and public defenders to be exempt from being required to electronically file court documents. Supreme Court Clerk Tom Hall said that action was sparked by public defenders who say they need paper filings to share with their clients who don’t have access to computers and that public defenders can’t afford to print copies. But Hall said such a hybrid system would be prohibitively expensive. “When you’re halfway between paper and electronic [filing], that’s when it gets expensive and this is going to make it permanent,” he said.

• Heard a report from Cox that e-filing is growing steadily. There were about 200 electronic filings in January, 800 in February, and 1,100 in March. Cox said 57 counties have been approved for filing in all five court divisions approved by the Supreme Court so far, and nine more have been approved to accept probate filings. Only one county, Levy, he said, is not approved to accept filings but is working on that. The staff for the portal is continuing to phase-in counties as they become qualified. As of mid-April, filings were being accepted from Bay, Collier, Columbia, Duval, Gulf, Holmes, Lake, Lee, Marion, Miami-Dade, Putnam, and Walton counties, with Broward, Palm Beach, and Polk counties expected to start soon. Alachua, Brevard, Franklin, Hillsborough, Jackson, Leon, Martin, Monroe, Nassau, Okaloosa, Pinellas, Sarasota, and Wakulla counties were in the process of joining the e-filing system, Cox said. Aside from trial courts, Hall said the Supreme Court and the Second District Court of Appeal are working to soon join the electronic filing system.

[Revised: 04-13-2014]