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Get up to speed on the technical standards for e-filing

Senior Editor Regular News

Get up to speed on the technical standards for e-filing

Senior Editor

Pop quiz: If you’re electronically filing, say, a motion through the Florida courts’ e-filing portal, must an exhibit be separately attached to a motion document or can it be included as part of the filed document?

Murray Silverstein Not enough lawyers know the correct answer, according to Clearwater’s Murray Silverstein, a member of the Florida Courts Technology Commission. (The right answer is the exhibit must be a separate attachment to the file.)

Silverstein, who is also chair of the Bar’s Rules of Judicial Administration Committee, reported at the FCTC’s November 7 meeting on the problems of making sure Bar members are up on the technical standards necessary for electronic filing and for working with the courts as they transition to electronic recordkeeping.

His remarks also led to a discussion about whether technical standards should be incorporated into or separate from procedural rules, how those standards should be amended, and whether there should be an expedited way to change technical standards other than the time-consuming procedural rules amendment process.

Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston, liaison to the FCTC, indicated the court might be open to such an expedited process.

The FCTC also discussed ways lawyers are added to or removed from e-service lists and grappled with how judges can electronically receive proposed orders and then file them to the parties and to court records. The commission did not reach any decision on either matter, but is continuing to study and collect information on both.

Technical Standards


“Not everyone in the state knows about the technical standards,” Silverstein said. “These have been in place since May. I don’t know how you go about publicizing these standards; they are not rules of court.”

He noted the standards — which also govern things such as the size of an electronic filing, size of a document to be electronically served, and even the definition of e-filing — can be found on the FCTC’s webpage on flcourts.org. In some cases, Silverstein noted, there are conflicts between the standards and various procedural rules.

The RJA discussed the issue, Silverstein said, including the problem of meeting fast-changing technical requirements with the slow rules amendment process, having a non-rules committee such as the FCTC approve technical standards that are in the rules, and having a new, faster, and more informal procedure for approving changes to technical standards, whether they are in procedural rules or separate.

“The point is the rules that involve technology need to take place in a way that is more streamlined, more efficient, and quicker,” he said.

Tom Hall, former Supreme Court clerk, gave the FCTC another example of how technical matters impact rules. He said the Appellate Court Rules Committee is wrestling with that issue concerning the record of appeal. “Do you put a lot of the technical stuff on creating the new record of appeal and put it in the rule, or do we have a technical standard outside of that, which the FCTC would adopt?” he asked.

FCTC member John Stewart, who is also a member of the Board of Governors, noted the Bar’s Vision 2016 technical committee, which he chairs, is also working on the issue because of the increasing technical challenges facing the profession.

“It’s something that we’re going to address. The streamlining and getting these rules advanced to the point that attorneys are not only aware of them, but following them is critical,” he said.

Polston cautioned about having overlapping committees duplicating work on the issue, but said the court is ready to help solve the problem.

“It’s better for the court if you present something [before a formal procedural rules filing] when you have something to look at to get a sense of what the choices are. It’s easier to take a multiple choice test than an essay,” he said with a smile. “We’d be happy to sit down anytime and talk through those things.”

“I think we’d like to take the court up on that,” Silverstein replied, adding the informal meeting should include the RJA, FCTC, court administrators, court clerks, and lawyers.

Proposed Orders


On proposed orders, Second Circuit Judge George Reynolds, chair of the FCTC’s E-Portal Subcommittee, reported that dealing with proposed orders is proving to be a tricky problem. Because proposed orders are not part of the docketed court record, clerks don’t want to process them through their case management systems, which accept documents filed through the court system’s statewide e-filing portal.

If proposed orders don’t come through the portal, then lawyers might have to email the judge directly, a process that can have its own problems.

“We know there are some orders that come in, the judge is going to sign them, and there’s not going to be a competing order,” Reynolds said. “But in circuit courts a lot of times you get competing orders so manipulatable documents are needed so judges can go in and make changes.”

He said one solution might be to have proposed orders filed through the portal, but kept separate from other court filings. Or, he added, they could be emailed to the judge.

“The clerks are uniform that this whole proposed order business should be through the judges and not through the clerks and entered into the clerks’ docketing system,” Reynolds said. “One of the big things is when you file a proposed order through the portal that doesn’t go into the clerks’ [case management system], it just kind of goes to the side.”

Reynolds said the subcommittee recommended creating a workgroup to study the issue, and FCTC Chair Lisa Munyon said she would do that. Seventeenth Circuit Judge Martin Bidwill will chair the workgroup.

“Lawyers would prefer a uniform method so thay don’t have to guess by judge how to deliver things,” Munyon said.

E-Service Lists


On e-service, Reynolds said his committee looked at how lawyers can remove themselves from the e-service list on a case when they are no longer involved or were mistakenly added.

“Right now, if you want to get off and somebody [else] has added you on, only they can take you off,” he said.

Reynolds said the subcommittee proposed a two-step solution: allowing anyone on the list to remove themselves, even if they weren’t the ones who added their names, and providing an audit trail so there is a record of who removed any name from a service list.

However, Jennifer Fishback, portal project manager for the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, which manages the portal, said that for technical reasons, it’s very difficult to allow anyone but those who added names to e-service lists to remove names.

FCTC member Laird Lile, a member of the Bar Board of Governors, and Silverstein said any such process should make clear that a lawyer who needs a judge’s permission to withdraw from a case cannot attempt to short-circuit that requirement by removing his or her name from the service list.

Silverstein said the RJA Committee is grappling with an interrelated issue: how attorneys notify courts when they appear in only a limited part of a case or appear as a covering attorney for another lawyer.

Hall said other problems crop up with e-service lists, including attorneys making mistakes when they add another attorney’s email address, attorneys changing their email address without any way of changing it on e-service lists when another party added their names, and attorneys closing or abandoning an email account, which may continue to show up in an e-service list.

“If your email address changes, you can’t get in there and fix that yourself,” he said.

Nor can attorneys always remove themselves if they played a minor, short-term part in a case and don’t want to be served anymore, Hall said.

After discussion, the FCTC decided to postpone action while Fishback and other portal staff work on the issue.

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