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March 1, 2014
E-filing help desk is fully staffed

The Service Desk for the Florida courts electronic filing system is fully staffed and operational and response time for most user calls has dropped from a few days to a few hours.

The Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, which oversees the statewide portal through which e-filing is done, was updated at its January 28 and February 13 meetings on the Service Desk status, which the authority voted to greatly expand last year.

The authority also worked on an issue related to allowing pro se litigants to file through the portal (if they wish) and were updated on the filing of criminal cases through the portal.

Melvin Cox, director of information technology for the portal, reported that pursuant to previous authority actions, the Service Desk had been expanded from three to nine employees.

The net effect, he said, is a dramatic drop in waiting times for Service Desk assistance. Cox attributed that to both the expansion of the staff and a dramatic drop in calls as lawyers become more familiar with the electronic filing system.

“What you are now seeing is a tremendous improvement in our acknowledgment and resolution times,” he said. “It has really surprised us to see these numbers.”

When mandatory e-filing for civil cases began in April, the authority got more than 16,000 calls by the end of that month, and 4,245 of those calls remained unresolved, Cox said. Further, it took almost two and a half days to acknowledge a call and another 2.88 days on average to resolve the inquiry.

By January, the number of calls from users had dropped to just more than 3,000, and, with a full Service Desk staff, the number of unresolved calls was 70. It took just more than two hours to acknowledge a call (the service desk does not directly answer calls, rather they go to a voicemail system) and a bit more than four hours to resolve it. Seventy-two percent of the inquiries come via email, and the rest are phone calls, he said.

The Service Desk also supports clerks’ offices that receive filings from lawyers. Those problems are typically more complex and take longer to solve, Cox said, but there has been a similar drop in fixing those problems.

On pro se filers, the authority at its January meeting adopted four recommendations from a Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers subcommittee, which is studying the issue along with a subcommittee of the Florida Courts Technology Commission.

Those recommendations are:

* The portal Service Desk will assist pro se users who choose to electronically file.

* There will be Web-based tutorials to service pro se filers.

* The interactive software, already in the portal programming, will guide pro se users through the filing process. The goal will be to ask questions, and, when the pro se users answer the questions, the proper forms will automatically be generated for filing. Those forms will be Supreme Court-approved forms.

* There will be no additional authentication or verification for pro se filers, similar to seven other states that allow electronic filing by pro se litigants.

At the February meeting, authority member Sharon Bock, Palm Beach County clerk of court and chair of the FCCC pro se subcommittee, reported that a joint pro se committee of the authority, FCCC, and the Florida Courts Technology Commission looked at the four recommendations. That subcommittee endorsed the first three recommendations, she said, but modified the fourth so that if a pro se filer would have online access to confidential documents filed in a case, then that filer would have to make an in-person appearance at a clerk’s office.

Authority members discussed allowing a mailed-in, notarized verification for pro se filers who are involved in a case far away from where they live.

On criminal e-filing, authority members heard that most counties expected to meet the February 3 deadline to be able to accept criminal filings through the portal, although some counties needed more time to be able to accept batch filings of cases from public defenders and state attorneys.

[Revised: 09-25-2015]