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Court adopts PDF/A standard for court documents

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Chief Justice CanadyThe Supreme Court has adopted the electronic format of PDF/A (Portable Document Format for Archiving) as the official format for filing and storing electronic documents in the state court system.

The recent administrative order signed by Chief Justice Charles Canady designates PDF/A as the preferred format for submitting documents through the court system’s statewide e-filing portal, although the portal will continue to accept submissions in regular PDF, Word, and WordPerfect formats and convert those to PDF/A.

However, county clerks of court will be required to store case documents in PDF/A no later than June 1, 2021, although they will not be required to convert older case files to that format.

Clerks who have trouble meeting that deadline must request an extension from the court by December 31, 2020.

The PDF/A format had been recommended by the court’s Florida Courts Technology Commission.

“PDF/A is recognized as the international standard for long-term archival storage,” Canady said in the order. “Use of PDF/A for the storage of electronic court records will maintain longevity of court PDF files and improve the security and preservation of case-related documents.

“The preferred format for documents filed through the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal (Portal) is PDF/A or a current equivalent, although the Portal allows and will continue to allow documents to be submitted in Word, WordPerfect, and other PDF formats. The Portal will check each document submitted to the Portal for the required PDF/A format and convert documents that are filed in the other allowed formats.”

The order also adopted, effectively immediately, the FCTC’s recommended standards for backup of online records, developed by the commission’s Technical Standards Subcommittee.

According to portal records, 59 percent of lawyers filed documents in the scanned PDF format, which means the document is not searchable and will not retain bookmarks or links when converted to PDF/A. Typically, lawyers do that so they can ink-sign the document — even through rules and filing standards allow electronic signatures on all filings — which requires that the document be scanned.

About 36 percent of lawyers filed in a text-based PDF format with electronic signatures, which means it does retain searchability, bookmarks, and links when others electronically access the document.

Carolyn Weber, the portal project manager for the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority which manages the portal, said Word and other common word processing programs have a single-step conversion process for switching documents to the written PDF or PDF/A format.

There are also PDF/A instructional materials on the portal’s website (https://myflcourtaccess.com/authority/trainingmanuals.html, and https://myflcourtaccess.com/authority/trainingvideos.html) and on the Bar’s LegalFuel website (https://www.legalfuel.com/e-filing-resources-for-florida-lawyers/).