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Authority removes nonlawyer office manager e-filing accounts

Senior Editor Regular News

All lawyer filings will now have to be done through an account created by a Florida Bar member

Nonlawyer law firm administrators will no longer be able to have electronic filing accounts through the Florida court system’s statewide portal, and lawyers who register for more than one account will get some extra scrutiny.

The Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, which manages the statewide portal that handles electronic filing for the trial courts, got a security update at its April 12 meeting. The board also got an update on portal usage and finances.

Portal manager Carolyn Weber said that recently accounts for office managers who are not Bar members were removed from the system. The accounts had been intended to help firm administrators manage cases, keep track of filing and other fees paid through the portal, and related matters. In some cases, firm attorneys used those accounts to do electronic filing instead of establishing accounts under their own names.

A scammer recently took advantage of that loophole to create an account under an actual lawyer’s name, file papers in a foreclosure case, and then make off with $130,000 left over after the foreclosure sale. (Portal officials noted that it would have been just as easy to fake the credential of the lawyer using the lawyer’s attorney number under the old paper filing system because documents were dropped off at clerks’ offices.)

Weber said all lawyer filings will now have to be done through an account created by a Florida Bar member. (Procedures still exist for pro se litigants and others to use the e-filing system.)

Sometimes, lawyers create more than one account for e-filing, she added. They still will be able to do that, but portal employees will do some checking when the additional accounts are set up to ensure that it is the same person creating the accounts, not an impostor/scammer.

Scanning for Viruses

On a related issue, the portal recently installed software to scan all filings for viruses, and Weber said that is working well.

On usage, Weber reported that March was the second highest month for filings through the portal, with the highest number of new cases initiated. Overall, there were 1.4 million submissions to the trial courts, encompassing 2.1 million documents totaling 9.6 million pages. That’s about 12,000 fewer submissions that the previous high month of August 2017.

However, the daily weekday average number of filings reached 63,134, which is the highest the portal has experienced, and there were 78,994 new cases filed, 4,000 more than in January, the next highest month.

Lawyers made 87 percent of the filings, judges did almost 8 percent, process servers accounted for 2.5 percent, pro se parties had 0.6 percent and the rest were by other users.

“There’s a steady increase in the number of submissions and the number of documents over the past five years,” Weber said.

Revenue Alternatives

On finances, authority Treasurer Tara Green, Clay County clerk of court, said she and others are looking at revenue alternatives for the authority’s portal operations. No firm recommendations have been reached, but she said by the time the authority meets again in June, she expects to have final recommendations.

“We’ve got several things in the hopper on what our options are,” she said. “We are actively working on that and hope to bring that to the board in the very near future.”

Projections are the authority will run a deficit in the 2018-19 fiscal year and Green’s efforts are aimed at addressing that issue.

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