Countdown to ‘paperless’ courts underway
Picture the County Commission Assembly Room, the only room in the Santa Rosa County courthouse annex large enough to hold nearly 200 judges, magistrates, judicial assistants, local lawyers, paralegals, clerk and court staff from Santa Rosa County and neighboring counties. They gathered in May to see a demonstration of the Florida courts’ e-filing portal and ask questions in an interactive environment.
Those questions and answers will help educate lawyers about the electronic filing system that by late 2013 they will be required to use when filing court documents.
Clerk of the Court Mary Johnson and Deputy Clerk Adair Cotton were on hand to welcome the crowd. The seminar was perhaps even more notable because Johnson is the first clerk in Florida ready to accept filings in all types of cases, civil and criminal, through the portal, which will become the sole electronic entry point into state courts by the end of next year.
“I am honored to have you all here,” noted Johnson. “The main goal of this office is to serve the needs of the people, the judiciary and other agencies’ staff. To that end, we want to help everyone get used to e-filing. We will hold these workshops over the summer and into the fall. The next one will be held August 22, in this same room.”
Johnson upgraded her existing case maintenance system last year. The new upgrades allowed her office to image, redact, and accept e-filed documents, making her office compliant with Florida law for redaction and imaging all case filings, and set the stage for going paperless.
Installing the new features connected her case maintenance system to the e-filing portal, allowing her office to start accepting electronically filed documents. Beginning a few months ago, Johnson and her staff urged local attorneys to begin sending documents electronically. Through local demonstrations, she was able to help them see that using the Internet website, , would save them time and money. There would be no need to send the paper document to the courthouse by runner and wait to have it accepted and stamped.
Johnson has seen a growing acceptance of this filing method since then.
Statewide, the focus has been on e-filing civil cases. But Johnson took the system one step further to incorporate the acceptance of criminal case filings and then move the electronic file to the bench so judges could do their work electronically.
Chair of the Florida Courts Technology Commission’s Access Governance Board, Santa Rosa County Judge Robert Hilliard, told the audience that the FCTC has taken notice of Johnson’s efforts.
“The steps that the Santa Rosa County judiciary and the clerk’s office are taking to become as paperless as possible in the criminal courts are being heard in Tallahassee. I am glad to see you here and that you are interested in how this very important step moves our courts toward the future,” Hilliard said.
Melvin Cox, director of Information Technology for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, reviewed the need for a phased-in approach for e-filing.
The ability to move from one county to the next, to work on civil cases, then criminal, is to allow filers time to get used to filing their documents electronically, to allow the clerks’ staff and law office staff time to work together and mutually understand what is needed and how to file.
“As the volume grows, so will the skill level and time reduction on both sides,” he said.
“The purpose for the demonstration is to bring everyone together in the same room so everyone can hear the questions and then provide answers by demonstrating how it can be done.”
And questions were the order of the day. From how an e-filing credit card payment shows up on the credit card statement to how to attach a document, everyone got a chance to ask their question and hear the answers.
The main question of the day: Where can I find out more about using the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal?
The answer: Visit, the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority website, www.flclerks.com/directory.html,where there is a brief video about the portal, as well as a link to a “Frequently Asked Questions” page. Many clerks’ websites have information about e-filing or a link to the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal. The websites can be found listed in one place, .
Here are other questions and answers:
Q: If you are the counsel of record, can you access all the pleadings filed on a case, or only the ones you filed?
A: The counsel of record can see all documents filed in a case.
Q: Can you print the documents that are filed on a case?
A: Yes, they are all shown as PDF documents that you can click on and open.
Q: Can you see the documents or files for cases where you are not attorney of record?
A: No. The portal does not store the data. It is sent to the local case maintenance system. If you are the attorney of record, you can access the records in a case.
Q: Is there a date and time stamp on the document when it is sent?
A: Yes, the portal puts a time stamp on the document, then the clerks’ case maintenance system puts a time stamp on the document, too.
Q: Will all the time stamps be in Eastern Standard Time?
A: Yes, the time stamp will show EST, but the Supreme Court has said it would be OK to convert the time for deadline purposes in the Central Standard Time zone.
Q: If two documents are filed at the same time, how does the system know which one is first?
A: This situation is handled the same way as in the paper world.
Q: Do you automatically get a case number when you file a new case?
A: The filer receives one email when the document is accepted on a new case, then gets a second email when the clerk accepts the document. With the second email, a case number is assigned.
Q: Will the system notice the opposing counsel?
A: Not right now, but we are aware of the need for that feature. The focus right now is to get the basic functionality of civil cases programmed and working smoothly. (See stories in the July 15 Bar News on the Supreme Court and the procedural rule implementing email service and proposed rule changes to eventually allow for e-service through the portal.)
Q: Can a guardian ad litem get access to a case they are a party to?
A: Right now the portal is for filers who have Florida Bar numbers. The Florida Courts E-Filing Authority recognizes the need for non-lawyer access in certain types of cases and is considering how to incorporate that.
Q: What happens if documents are filed with sealed or confidential information?
A: The clerk will redact the document according to Supreme Court standards. (Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420(d)(2) and (3) sets out duties for filers to identify confidential information in their submissions.)
Q: Can I get a list of all the cases in which I am counsel of record?
A: No, but once you log on, all of the documents you have filed are shown.
Q: So, I can file a case, or document in a case in another county from my desk here in Santa Rosa?
A: Yes, as long as that county is accepting the case type you are filing.
Q: Can you file the confidential form or the indigency waiver through the site?
A: The waiver process is outlined on the filing screens through use of a check box.
Q: What shows up on the credit card statement? Will we have the case number for billing purposes?
A: The credit card statement shows a charge from “MyFloridaCounty.com.” But this is a great idea. The clerk’s office will also have a receipt that can be used for this purpose.
Q: Can our law firm still use an escrow account to pay filing fees?
A: The Florida Courts E-Filing Authority debated this at length and chose not to handle escrow accounts.
Q: Is it possible to capture the receipt and send it to the billing department in our firm?
A: Yes. Great suggestion for an operational solution. Just remember, the credit card is not charged until the clerk accepts the filing.
Q: Can the State of Florida file without a fee?
A: Criminal cases and other cases from state agencies are filed without a fee already. Nothing would change when filing them through the portal.
Q: For orders, how does that work?
A: In Santa Rosa County, you can send them through the portal; they flow through the local case maintenance system and into the judges’ in-boxes, where they can e-sign the document. As authorized by the Supreme Court, there will be a time stamp associated with the date and time the document was signed.
Q: What about probate filings and guardianship inventories?
A: Those types of documents can be e-signed, as well. Just make sure to file the original will.
Q: If an attorney is submitting a proposed order to a judge electronically, how will the copies be submitted?
A: Whomever was responsible for providing copies of the order, when in paper form, is still responsible for that aspect.
Q: Regarding a probate filing, is the confidential notice in there, too?
A: It will be added. It was approved by the Florida Courts Technology Commission in May.
Q: In an especially sensitive case, how do you get access to a copy for law enforcement?
A: You can still always go the clerks’ office for a certified copy.
Q: Can you attach a Microsoft Word document when filing through the portal?
A: Yes. The portal will change it to a PDF.
Q: How do you electronically sign the document?
A: You can put the “s/” on the Microsoft Word document and that will suffice.
Q: Does a signature in a probate case need to be an original? Is the electronic signature acceptable?
A: No, for probate documents, the signature must be original. The scanned document can be filed through the portal.
Q: If you file on a felony and it becomes a misdemeanor, will all the documents subsequently filed on the case go to the Misdemeanor Division of the clerk’s office?
Q: How do you handle it if an attorney leaves a firm?
A: There is an administrative function in the profile where the firm administrator can delete users associated with the firm when needed.
Q: Are there any restrictions to document size?
A: The portal will handle a document up to 25 mg — about 1,000 typewritten pages.
Q: Can you send a motion to suppress along with a proposed order?
A: Any type of document can be filed through the portal. Certain types of documents may require the local clerk’s office to set up the proper operation procedures to route appropriately. Santa Rosa County supports this.
Q: If the filer selects the fee waiver form, is the fee payment still required?
A: No. The portal only requires the filer to select one payment option. “Fee waiver” is one of the options the filer can select.
Q: Does the system take care of generating the summons and fee?
A: The filer can attach the summons as a document to be filed and also pay the summons fee.
(Editor’s Note: The information in this story was compiled by the Florida Association of Court Clerks, which staffs the Florida Court’s E-Filing Authority, and was edited by the News.)