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Portal board green lights standardization plan

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Portal board green lights standardization plan

Senior Editor

A plan to continue standardization for civil cases on the state court system’s efiling portal — so that menu options for a lawyer filing in Broward County are the same as when he or she files in Santa Rosa County — has been approved by the portal’s governing board.

Tim Smith The Florida Courts EFiling Authority Board of Directors approved a plan May 7 to adopt standardization to the main three drop-down menus lawyers use when filing civil documents. (Criminal cases already have standard menus.) The recommendations came from the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers Best Practices committee.

The authority asked that county court clerks accomplish those changes by September 1.

“This is a great effort, I think, to move toward standardization,” said authority Chair Tim Smith, Putnam County clerk of court. “Is it perfect? Is it finished? No.. . . From a filer’s perspective, this is going to be of tremendous value, particularly for those filers that file across county lines.”

He noted, “It is not an easy task, I will tell you that. The more we look at this and think we have the right solution, the more we find out it has a lot of twists and turns in it and there is no simple one-fix solution that helps all. But we’re moving in the right direction.”

Standardization has been an issue with electronic filing since the start of the portal. Electronic filing became mandatory in civil cases in April 2013 and now includes criminal cases. The courts and clerks were mandated by the Legislature to begin electronic filing on a short schedule, but no state money was earmarked for the job.

The resulting setup for filing gave individual county clerks of court great control over how civil filing would be done. County-to-county differences, including with local orders and clerks’ case management systems, resulted in a wide range in how the portal’s filing menus were set up depending on which county the filing is done in. Some counties had extensive menus and submenus, some had only a few options. The same document type sometimes has different names or titles in different counties.

Smith noted that two years ago, then Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston set a goal for the authority to have a standardized presentation so portal users will have a uniform system regardless of where in the state they are filing documents.

Carolyn Weber, e-portal program manager, said the first phase of the program addresses three areas lawyers encounter when filing: which court division a document will be filed in; case type; and case subtype.

Most counties already use a more or less standard way to sort case filings by court division. Exceptions, Weber said, are like Monroe County where the case management system also has to account for which courthouse the case is being filed in.

“There are just a few of those counties that have this drop down [menu] that looks different. For the most part, this drop down is consistent and standard in all of our different counties,” Weber said.

The next step focused on type of case. There, a uniform list has been developed that shows case types and subtypes. For example, Weber said if a filer select professional malpractice, the resulting submenu will list the types of malpractice cases that can be filed.

Additionally, she noted, the standard lists for the division, case type, and case subtypes are consistent with the Florida Supreme Court’s Summary Reporting System areas.

A slightly different approach is being taken on the last and most complex area — picking what kind of document will be filed.

Weber said most attorneys she’s talked with don’t go through various menus to select the document description, instead they use the portal’s search function. So, the next step of the standardization effort is addressing that.

“You go to the search box and type in the name of the document you want to file. It will pull up all of the unique documents that have that word in their title and allow you to choose the document type you’re going to file,” she said. “So if you’re going to file a notice of appearance, you type that in and do a search, and it pulls up any documents that have appearances as part of that title. You no longer have to search through the groups or types to find your document.”

Weber said, an initial effort to get uniform descriptions for the most commonly filed documents is underway. Future standardization phases will address furthering the conformity in document descriptions, she said.

“The thought was the documents that are shared in all the different counties would be named the same, so that the motion for summary judgment would be called the same thing,” she said. “What it does do is provide standardization for documents that are used among all of the counties.”

Franklin County Clerk of Court Marcia Johnson, who chairs the FCCC’s Best Practices Committee, said representatives from 25 counties got together to work on the document descriptions. Each listed their 80 most commonly filed documents types, which she noted varied from county to county. Overall, that covered 182 different document types.

From there, the workgroup established a single name for the same type of documents.

“We wanted to make the documents as simple as possible and tried to stick to what attorneys would expect to see,” said Jean Sperbeck, attorney for Alachua County Clerk of Court J.K. Irby, and who serves on Johnson’s committee, said.

However, a few days after the portal authority meeting, the need to pursue that document standardization may have become moot. The Supreme Court’s Florida Courts Technology Commission on May 14 voted to recommend that the document description menus be dropped from the portal and instead users rely on the search function.

That recommendation will be considered by the portal authority at its June 1 meeting.

Smith suggested a September 1 deadline for clerks to comply with the first set of new standards, noting this summer the clerks are set to comply with the court’s directive to provide online access to court records.

The authority board unanimously approved the standardizing recommendations and the September 1 date.

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