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2 county court systems get e-filing approval

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Two of Indiana's largest counties are getting close to putting electronic filing plans into place after receiving a green light from the Indiana Supreme Court late last year and early this year for pilot projects.

A key goal of the separate pilot projects in Lake and Marion counties is to push certain cases online and eliminate the paper-based filing method. The aim is to make the court systems more efficient overall. Both are set up to be limited trial projects, but the prediction is that they will help set the tone for all courts someday using a paperless filing system.

In both counties, registered users must sign an agreement and pay fees to use the e-filing and service system. Both counties also offer a way for pro se litigants to use the new system, and opt-out provisions can be used for those not wanting to go paperless at this time.

Under the leadership of Circuit Judge Lorenzo Arredondo and Superior Judges Jeff Dywan and John Pera, the Lake County judiciary first filed a plan in June 2007 targeting e-filing for mortgage foreclosure cases randomly assigned to each court. Delays and amendments pushed the launch date back, and the judiciary submitted a new proposal in June 2009 for the Supreme Court's review. Lake County will use a self-contained system to file and serve documents using its CourtView case management system and through the online docket.

The Supreme Court granted Marion County's proposal submitted last year. It's believed to be the state's first e-filing pilot program targeted initially at foreclosure and collection cases that represent a large chunk of the civil judges' dockets. Thirteen courts will allow for the e-filings. A 91-page project report posted online at http://www.in.gov/judiciary/marion/docs/efiling021910.pdf describes the details of the plan, which is being tweaked locally before it takes effect later this year.

Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch led that initiative, along with some of her colleagues on the bench. She told Indiana Lawyer that this is no different for attorneys and litigants than coming into court to file regular paper documents and putting them into a file by hand. Computer terminals will be set up in the county clerk's office for public access.

LexisNexis is responsible for the electronic filing and serving, and the costs are $35 per collections case and $55 per mortgage foreclosure case, according to the project's pricing sheet. Fees are also included for any offline mail service delivery.

This has been in the works for years, with the county's judiciary and Indianapolis Bar Association exploring the e-filing possibility to tackle the growing number of mortgage and foreclosure cases. In the past few years, the number of those cases has increased steadily, and respectfully represent 50 and 58 percent of the civil judges' dockets, Judge Welch said. Tackling those cases will have the most impact on the overall caseloads, she said.

"The judges and the clerk ... have determined that an electronic filing system would advance efficiency in the Clerk's offices and the courts, and that members of the public and bar would be well served by such a system," the project plan says.

Similar systems have been implemented on a statewide basis in places like Colorado and Delaware, which have implemented either voluntary or mandatory e-filing.

Educational and training seminars for attorney, law firm, and court participants are expected in the coming weeks, according to the schedule. After three months, an E-File Advisory Committee will meet to discuss and document the project's progress. That group will also be responsible for evaluating and assessing the project and potential expansion.

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