Most county clerks were taking criminal case filings by a February 3 deadline set by the Supreme Court, according to the agency overseeing the statewide e-filing portal, but lawyers need to do better highlighting documents that contain confidential information and updating email addresses for the portal e-service capabilities.
With the exception of a handful of offices still working to get criminal case filing systems programmed, February 3 came and went with little fanfare. Each agency granted an extension by Chief Justice Ricky Polston, listed in Administrative Order SC 14-1, was given a date by which they must be ready. No date is later than midyear.
Overall, Tim Smith, Florida Courts E-Filing Authority chair, and Putnam County clerk of the circuit court, said at the February board meeting: “E-Filing is a success story for Florida. It is working. That is not to say we do not need to continue to make the system better and listen to our customers.”
The authority on the public notices page of its website (see end of story) lists clerks’ readiness to accept criminal case filings. The portal has more than 57,000 registered lawyer users and documents filed have surpassed 1.7 million a month. The authority is beginning to make the tweaks and upgrades that help filers be more successful in their practices.
The portal’s technical staff is working with clerks to provide users with links to filed documents and exhibits, as well as the ability to send documents back and forth. But perhaps the most immediate and tangible asset to the portal is a now fully staffed Service Desk. Taking a little over 3,000 calls and emails a month, the Service Desk both helps portal users and has become a tool for gauging how well e-filing is going.
For instance, a review of calls and filings shows that not all filers are marking their documents as confidential or noting they contain confidential information when they contain sensitive information as defined in the Rules of Judicial Administration.
When submitting a document through the portal, the filer must choose one of two options: the document does not contain confidential or sensitive information or the document does contain confidential or sensitive information. If it does contain confidential information, the filer must protect that information by complying with Rules of Judicial Administration 2.420 and 2.425. The filer also must include a Notice of Confidential Information, filed as a document along with the submission.
Currently, the portal does not allow a filer the option to note that a document should be flagged as confidnetial in its entirely, nor to omit the Notice of Confirdentiality form in such cases. However, portal updates planned for late March will include a new, third option. That will allow filers to select a checkbox to mark a document as completely confidential and which will be in a file that is being kept confidential. The notice for this check box will read: “The entire file is maintained as confidential either by statute, court rule, or court order and pursuant to [Rule of Judicial Administration] 2.420(d)(2), neither a certification or notice of confidential information with court filing is required.”
No Notice of Confidential Information will be needed in this situation.
Besides the confidentiality issues, reviews of filings show that attorneys are improperly withdrawing from cases through the portal. Attorneys are removing their names and email addresses from the e-service listing for the case without doing any additional paperwork. Removing an email address from the e-service list does not terminate the attorney’s responsibility to represent his or her client; only filing the appropriate court paperwork can do that.
Portal officials are also encouraging attorneys to check the e-service list in their cases to make sure it is accurate and up to date. If e-service cannot be completed due to an invalid email address, the filer receives an emailed notification of the bad address that should be removed or corrected.
These issues and more are being addressed in a newly designed FAQs page of the authority website, www.myflcourtaccess.com/authority/faqs.html. There are now searchable documents that can be used electronically or downloaded, giving the user tips on how to use the e-service module, how to add to the e-service list the email addresses for the state attorney, and an updated set of FAQS for using the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal.