Saying they need a nine-month lead time, Florida’s state attorneys have asked for a blanket postponement to comply with the Supreme Court’s order setting October 1 as a mandatory day for electronic filing of criminal cases.
“. . . [E]-Filing using the Florida Courts e-Filing Portal website would create a workload increase for our attorneys who are already carrying large case loads,” Arthur I. (Buddy) Jacobs, general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, wrote in an August 19 letter to Chief Justice Ricky Polston seeking a delay.
Jacobs wrote that prosecutors have been working to create an automated filing system that will work with the state attorneys’ case management system, but that system cannot be completed and adequately tested until all county clerks are ready to accept electronically filed criminal cases.
“Until recently, 13 clerks were using the portal in a production environment for criminal cases to allow attorneys to electronically file court documents,” the letter said. “We are unable to test communications with the remaining 54 clerks. This delay in clerks being ready has prevented our offices from being able to implement a phased-in approach to e-filing.”
The letter came four days after a meeting of the Florida Court E-Filing Authority, which oversees the portal through which e-filing is done. At that meeting, John Tomasino, of the Second Circuit Public Defenders Office and the point person for public defenders on e-filing, said that public defenders would be ready for e-filing by October 1.
In addition, portal staff members have been working with counties, state attorneys, and public defenders to prepare for e-filing, including extensive testing with 13 counties and state attorneys and public defenders. That testing includes batch filing of cases, important to public defenders and state attorneys because of their high volume of cases.
In his letter, Jacobs said state attorneys in multi-county circuits will find it difficult to electronically file until all counties in the circuit are online.
“With the importance of an automated system in the success of this process for our offices, it is very difficult to implement e-filing on a county-by-county basis,” the letter said. “This would require duplication of work in the design of our internal systems to facilitate some counties accepting e-filing and others not yet being prepared.
“The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association is requesting an extension of the October 1, 2013, e-filing deadline until nine months after the last clerk within their circuit is accepting filing electronically from the Florida Courts e-Filing Portal. This extension will allow us to complete the development of our automated process, test communications and internal procedures, and phase in e-filing by division across the circuit.”
The letter requested the delay apply to all divisions of criminal courts: circuit, county, traffic, juvenile delinquency, civil commitments, and Baker Act.
After the meeting, Tomasino said that public defenders saw more advantages than disadvantages in sticking with the October 1 date, although he acknowledged that some larger circuits may not be ready and that batch filing may not be ready.
“The overwhelming majority of the public defenders said they are ready to take on single session filing,” he said. “The gains that we’re going to have by having electronic service, the benefits are going to outweigh any time lost going through the portal to file [without batch filing].”
Tomasino added that Santa Rosa County has been doing criminal case filing — but not batch filing — including by the state attorney and public defender since last year, and no problems have developed.
Many of the public defenders around the state use the same case management software, he said, and are able to cooperate on implementing e-filing.
The portal staff is working on batch processing, including testing with several state attorney and public defender offices, and the authority board was updated on that status at its August meeting.
“We want to take advantage of it [batch filing], but we don’t want to delay the October 1 date if that’s not completely available by then,” Tomasino said.
Chief Justice Ricky Polston said the court is ready to consider delaying the October 1 deadline in some counties if progress is being made.
“We are interested in getting the criminal e-filing done expeditiously, but in a practical way with cooperation from the courts, clerks, state attorneys, public defenders, and other lawyers,” Polston said, after receiving the prosecutors’ letter.
“The October 1 deadline will likely be delayed in various counties, as requested by those who are not ready, but we expect they will support their request for additional time with a cooperative plan.”
E-filing authority Chair Tim Smith, Putnam County clerk of the court, said the portal has the capacity for criminal filings and that the authority will work will all parties involved in criminal case filing.
“The Florida Courts E-Filing Portal has been accepting single-session [non-batch]criminal filings in a number of circuits for some time,” Smith said. “However, we are aware that any time there is a project like this, where there are multiple software systems requiring a great deal of connectivity, it is expected to take time to make sure that all connections are tested and that they work. We are committed to continuing to work cooperatively with the state attorneys, public defenders, the courts and the clerks. The portal is ready and is already accepting criminal filings. As authority chair, it is our goal to move this project along in a timely and efficient manner, with the cooperation and participation of the many entities that will benefit from using a statewide e-file portal.”