By Gary Blenkenship
A coming change to the Florida courts e-filing portal is aimed at making it easier for lawyers to choose the “document type” when they are electronically filing court documents.
The update to portal software, which will be installed after business hours on Friday, October 24, will suggest document categories to users instead of requiring them to conduct a search or scroll through lists to find the correct title for the type of document they are submitting.
The Florida Court E-Filing Authority, which runs the statewide portal through which electronic filing is done, got a look at the upcoming software update at its September 25 meeting in Tallahassee.
Other changes include allowing larger documents to be electronically filed in the appellate courts, making it easier to see who has been served with documents in a case, and making it easier for lawyers to remove themselves from electronic service lists for cases they are no longer involved in.
Jennifer Fishback, portal project manager, presented the upcoming software improvements. She said the assistance on choosing a document type will help address a stubborn problem brought up by users — that the portal functions differently from county to county, primarily in the number and options for document types presented to filers. (The authority took an in-depth look at the lack of uniformity in the document menus among counties later in the meeting. See story, here.)
“What we’re trying to do with this [update] is help filers locate the document type they need to file to the county they are filing in, by adding a search feature,” Fishback told the authority board.
“We’re hoping the next change . . . will help people find their document type more easily.”
Currently, the portal’s document tab offers to filers a variety of groups to select to find a document type. And each group offers several individual document types that filers can choose.
Carolyn Weber, e-filing portal senior analyst, noted that the number of groups offered and the number of documents in each group varies county to county for historical and other reasons.
Fishback said sometimes the same document will be labeled slightly differently from county to county — “Summons Issued,” “Summons Issue To,” and “Summons Issued For” are all used by different counties to refer to the same document, she noted.
Also, a document may be listed in several document groups, which can be appropriate but confusing.
Weber said that the current portal offers a search feature that allows users to look for a particular document. The upgrade will allow users to begin typing in a document type, and the portal will automatically provide a list of document types that fit the words being typed, similar to the way many search engines work.
“What we are doing is allowing you to type in a word, put in a common word, and you will get options and get a list,” Weber said.
For example, she said typing in “amend” will produce “amended complaint” and any other document types that use the word amend, amended, or similar derivatives.
She said that should reduce some of the difficulties in dealing with county-to-county variances in lists for document groups and document types.
Other changes for filers in the release are:
* The maximum size of documents that can be filed in appellate cases will be increased from 10 megabytes to 25 megabytes.
At the moment, that will only affect the Supreme Court and the Second District Court of Appeal, although the remaining four DCAs are expected to begin taking filings through the portal (they’re using an older e-filing system at the moment) in the next several months.
* Information about e-service will be added to a user’s “My Filings” screen.
Currently, that screen shows documents that have been filed, the status of the filed documents, and the status of fees paid on those documents.
The upgrade, Fishback said, will add an e-service list to that screen so filers can see everyone who has been electronically served with a filed document. To do that now, filers have to check the e-service page and individually check with all parties and lawyers listed on that page.
* A new screen will be added to allow filers to better manage their e-service. Specifically, Fishback said that one screen will show all cases the filer is listed for e-service and allow them to remove themselves from cases they are no longer involved in. Currently, they have to go case by case to each e-service list to remove themselves.
Portal staff has put training materials and videos on the portal’s website, www.myflcourtaccess.com, Fishback said. Look under the Help tab on the homepage for training manuals and training videos. Under E-Filing videos on the video page is a 10-minute video on the October 24 update.
Aside from the user improvements in the update, other changes will help clerks, including the ability to electronically send documents to the Department of Corrections.
Fishback also said portal staff is already working on the next software update, tentatively scheduled for April 2015, that will offer a new screen for filers, called “My Fees.”
That will show filers what fees have been paid in various cases and documents. She said lawyers are having difficulty because they get bank statements showing the amount of fees paid through the portal, but frequently without detail on which cases and clients the fees were paid for.
Fishback said the goal is to provide information that lawyers can download and import directly into their banking software so they can accurately allocate expenses to clients.