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Proposed e-filing rule comment period open

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Lawyers will be able to file state court cases and motions with the ease of clicking a button beginning next year. Getting to that point won’t be so simple.

“We will experience some growing pains,” said Marion Superior 2 Special Master Therese Hannah, a member of a committee appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court to move the state toward electronic filing.

“The young people I think are most clear about it, and one woman told me we need to develop the processes to support e-filing,” Hannah said. “She’s right. We’ve got hundreds of years of experience supporting paper, but we haven’t caught up” with technology.

Paul-mathias-1-15col.jpg Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias stands behind his tech-heavy desktop in his Statehouse chambers. Mathias is a leading force in the state courts’ e-filing initiative. (IL photo/Dave Stafford)

The Supreme Court is taking steps in that direction, inviting comments through June 23 on the proposed rule for e-filing. The court issued an order May 22 for state courts to begin the transition in 2015.

Indiana has some experience with e-filing. Marion and Lake counties, the state’s two most populous, have had pilot projects in place for years – including in Hannah’s court – since the Supreme Court authorized them in 2006. Those pilots will continue.

“Nearly every aspect of our lives includes electronic documents — stores send receipts via email, banks allow check deposits through a smart phone,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson said. “Now lawyers and litigants will be able to file court documents electronically. Using this technology, our courts will be more efficient and better able to administer justice without delay.”

Marilyn Hrnjak, executive chief deputy in the Lake County Clerk’s office, said that as with any change, there likely will be glitches and difficulties. “Just getting everyone adjusted to change, there’s a mental adjustment that has to take place.”

She believes people will embrace e-filing when they realize how much of their time, staff time and paper is saved. “It’s a very good thing, in my opinion.”

Hannah regularly presents a continuing legal education program on e-filing. She started it just for mass-tort litigators but, this year, she opened it to everyone. “A lot of the comments I received were, ‘When can we e-file everything?’”

The Division of State Court Administration plans to begin implementing e-filing in phases next year. Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias is taking a lead role in the effort and said paper filing likely will be phased out so clerks won’t be burdened with overseeing two filing methods.

“This is really a result and a culmination of more than a decade of review and testing,” Mathias said.

Janell-Smiley-SC-case-manager-15col.jpg Supreme Court case manager Janell Smiley works on the 28-year-old computer system used to track appellate cases. The e-filing order also includes upgrading that system. (IL Photo/Dave Stafford)

“It’s been quite positive. The clerks really like it,” Hrnjak said of Lake County’s pilot. “I would say, overall, I consider it a change for the better.”

In Lake County, e-filing is mandatory in mortgage foreclosure cases and optional for small claims. Hrnjak said e-filing is popular among attorneys who file numerous collection or landlord/tenant cases, for instance.

She said statistics bear out the popularity. Since e-filing came online in Lake County, more than 234,000 filings have been made with an estimated 3.4 million pages electronically filed. That is equal to a stack of paper more than 1,150 feet high – roughly as tall as a 90-story building.

Marion County has mandatory e-filing for its docket of asbestos cases, said Hannah, whose court handles mass torts, many of which are filed electronically. Those cases may be e-filed by mutual consent, and that’s been the case for State Fair stage collapse litigation and others.

“Usually in (mass torts) you would have voluminous paper filings that stress the court’s ability to handle all the paper,” Hannah said. “You’re talking boxes and boxes.”

Marion County also allows e-filing for collections and mortgage foreclosure cases, she said.

E-filing will come with fees, but specific amounts are not known yet. Lake and Marion counties set different pricing structures for their pilots. In Marion County, mortgage foreclosure filing and service costs $55, and collections filing and notice costs $35. Costs vary for mass torts. In Lake County, attorneys pay an $80 annual registration fee ($200 for commercial users) and are charged $17.50 per case filing.

“The e-file charge associated with mandatory e-filing should be less than the cost for a county engaged in a voluntary e-filing program. We would expect our litigants to benefit from the economies of scale,” Hannah said.

State Court Administration soon will seek competitive bids for a single statewide e-filing manager, according to information provided by the courts. Mathias said it’s anticipated that the system will be supported by fees, and filers will have a choice of e-filing service providers that will be certified by the court.

Mathias said competition among market providers also is expected to keep fees low, and the courts will strive to build in fee waivers and make the system accessible for indigent litigants.

“We’re really excited to bring this level of connectivity” to court users, Mathias said. “It’s the same level of connectivity people have gotten used to in the last decade.”

Litigants still may be allowed to file on paper, according to the proposed rules, upon court approval on a showing of good cause.

The initiative coincides with a planned conversion of appellate courts to the state-supported Odyssey case management system now in use in courts in 48 counties. Robert Rath, director of appellate court technology, said the conversion will allow attorneys and the public to view trial and appellate case dockets on the same site.

That’s good news for Janell Smiley, a case manager for the Indiana Supreme Court who’s used a 28-year-old, MS-DOS-based computer system to track cases during her nine years on the job.

The current system requires duplication, coding and entries that just aren’t required in Odyssey, she said.

“I think one of the things we’re looking forward to in the Odyssey program is it will do some things for us,” Smiley said.•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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