By Gary Blankenship
Allowing law enforcement officers to electronically submit criminal charges in the Florida courts’ e-filing system and speeding up judges’ abilities to electronically issue orders and conduct other business occupied the Florida Court Technology Commission at its August Tallahassee meeting.
The commission approved the recommendation of its Criminal Case Initiation Workgroup, chaired by 17th Circuit Judge Martin Bidwill, to prepare a survey for the state’s 67 clerks of court asking them for advice on allowing police to electronically file criminal cases. The workgroup also will discuss the issue with the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and local law enforcement agencies.
FCTC Chair and Ninth Circuit Judge Lisa Munyon explained some of the advantages of an electronic system.
“If I’m doing first appearances, theoretically if there’s no review process slowing down the [filed] images to the court, it could be automated to set up the first appearance document and accessible to the judge immediately, as opposed to getting a pile of paper,” she said at the workgroup’s August meeting.
In response to how such a system might work and how long it would take to set up, Carolyn Weber, the portal projects manager for the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, which manages the statewide e-filing portal, said the optimal system would take some time.
Bidwill asked if it would be possible, as a jail booking officer filled out the normal arrest information, if that could automatically be sent through the portal to clerks. Weber said the portal is not set up to coordinate with police at the moment and making that change will take some time. However, setting up an interim system where the police could separately send the information, perhaps attaching the booking sheet, could be done fairly quickly, she said.
Bidwill said the survey will probably be in two parts, first to clerks to get their feedback and then to law enforcement, state attorneys, clerks and other stakeholders to develop more detailed information.
The full FCTC voted to take that approach.
On judicial electronic orders, the FCTC passed on second reading a recommendation to the Supreme Court to mandate that all counties have the capability for judges to electronically file and serve orders through the statewide portal by September 1, 2018.
Commission member Murray Silverstein, a former member of the Bar Board of Governors, said it’s frustrating for lawyers to use electronic filing and service throughout a case, and then have the judges and lawyers use paper and U.S. mail on proposed and final orders.
“If we don’t get started and set a date by which this should be done, we won’t get anywhere,” he said.
Commission members discussed problems, including getting and paying for terminals — sometimes called judicial viewers — for all counties and all judges, getting judges trained in using the terminals, and addressing problems like sending orders to pro se parties who don’t have email.
Seventh Circuit Judge Terrence Perkins said getting all judges wired into the system will have substantial advantages. He noted in criminal court, his circuit has created a dozen templates for common orders that can be instantly completed.
“We do it right then on the spot,” he said. “We do it on the template, we push the button, and it’s done. It’s done before they [the parties] leave the courtroom.”
The resolution originally called for a July 1 deadline, but Judge Munyon suggested moving it to September 1, which allowed the circuit and county court judicial conferences to offer training at their annual summer meetings.
On another matter, the commission approved a suggestion from member Laird Lile, a member of the Bar Board of Governors, to adjust the timing for scheduled maintenance to the portal.
Lile noted that maintenance, which is announced in advance, starts at 9 p.m. and ends at 2 a.m. That could cause a problem, he said, if a lawyer was planning to file a document late at night and had to meet a filing deadline of midnight. He suggested, and the commission agreed, to recommend to the portal authority that maintenance start after midnight.