By Gary Blankenship
In January 2011, the statewide Florida courts e-filing portal wobbled its way online, with nine counties accepting a handful of filings from participating lawyers, who were usually handpicked to help test the system.
Only civil filings were accepted and no county accepted submissions in more than five of the circuit and county court divisions. In the first six weeks, a total of 552 documents were filed.
Fast forward more than six years. The portal, managed by the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority Board, passed a milestone with more than 2 million documents filed in March. It not only accepts filings in every type of case, it allows judges to disseminate rulings, and, in some areas of the state, it allows submission of proposed orders to judges. Process servers can do their paperwork online and pro se parties can file electronically (they retain the option to do paper filing; attorneys are required to use the portal unless they lack internet access).
The portal also took another step in approving eight companies and vendors and provisionally approving a ninth that will be able to file multiple cases through the portal in one session, rather than doing case-by-case filings. State attorneys and public defenders already largely have such “batch” filing capabilities for their large volume of cases.
“That’s an incredible volume that goes through the portal,” said authority Chair Tim Smith, clerk of court for Putnam County, at the authority’s April 21 meeting. “That’s a real testament to the hard work of a lot of people.”
He praised current and former authority board members and chairs as well as the authority’s staff for growing the system and adapting to changes.
Carolyn Weber, portal project manager, gave the breakdown for March numbers. Overall, there were almost 1.4 million e-filing submissions totaling 2,059,783 documents for March. That encompassed 9.3 million pages sent through the portal.
The vast majority of the filings, nearly 1.4 million, were for the trial courts. Another 1,356 were for the Supreme Court and 1,604 were for the Second District Court of Appeal, which has temporarily withdrawn from using the portal in favor of the eDCA system used by other DCAs (see story on page 3 of this News). The Department of Corrections received 769 documents through the portal.
Most of the filings came in existing cases, although 70,118 new cases were initiated. On an average day, 60,062 documents were filed. Typically, it took 1.6 days from the time a document was filed until it appeared on the case docket.
Weber said 148,032 individuals and entities are registered to electronically file through the portal. Of that, the largest number — 67,501 — are attorneys, who accounted for 88.2 percent of the filings. Most judges, 982, are now registered to use the portal, and 870 process servers are signed up.
There are 63,129 pro se parties registered to electronically file, but they accounted for only 0.59 percent of the March filings. Authority members have noted in the past most pro se parties are not active filers because their cases have ended, although they remain registered users.
Monthly filings, Weber reported, have been running between 1.8 and 1.9 million for several months before breaking the 2 million barrier. In March 2016, there were 1.9 million documents filed, and in March 2015, the number was 1.86 million.
The third-party batch filing for civil cases and private law firms and companies is a new procedure for the portal. This allows outside vendors — the initial batch includes law firms, process servers, and private companies — to do filings in multiple cases in a single session. Currently private law firms can do “single session” filing, which lets them file documents in one case, but, when they need to file in a second case, they have to go back to the start of the filing process.
Most state attorneys and public defenders have batch filing, which lets them put documents to be filed in multiple cases in one computer folder and then file them simultaneously in one session. Basically, instead of a person selecting every document to be filed, that function is automatically done between computers. Several law firms and private vendors approached the portal authority last year about offering the same capability for private firms, mostly for civil cases.
Late last year, the authority set up an application and testing procedure for interested parties. Extensive testing was required because each vendor had to design software that could successfully work with the portal’s software. Some of the approved vendors are expected to use their systems for their own law firms or process-serving businesses, but some are expected to offer electronic filing for lawyers and law firms.
One approved vendor is eFileMadeEasy, which is already part of the Bar’s Member Benefits program as a provider of e-filing services. The company was approved to handle civil and domestic relations, including family law filing, for all divisions in county and civil courts for existing cases.
Other approved vendors are:
• TSI Legal, which will handle civil filings in circuit and county courts for existing cases;
• Kahane and Associates, which was approved to handle new and existing case filings in circuit civil divisions;
• Integrated Information Systems, which will handle new and existing civil filings in county courts;
• Caffeine Code, Inc., which will handle existing filings in circuit and county court cases in civil, domestic relations, juvenile, dependency, and criminal matters;
• Provest, which will handle filings in existing circuit court civil cases;
• ABC Legal Services, Inc., which will handle filings for new and existing civil cases in circuit and county courts;
• Legal Tool Set, which will handle new case filings in county court civil cases.
Aside from those companies, the authority board gave provisional approval to JJL Process Corp., when it finishes its testing. That company will handle new and existing civil cases in county and circuit courts.
Aside from those entities, two additional companies have applied for approval to begin developing and testing their software.