Ready or not, the era of e-filing begins July 1 for everyone submitting court documents in Hamilton County and in Indiana’s appellate courts. There’s evidence that despite the buildup over recent months, many lawyers and filers may be caught off guard.
Indianapolis solo practitioner Dylan Vigh handles cases in state and federal trial courts, including about six appeals in state court each year. He said he welcomes state court e-filing, which he called long overdue. But he said he’s not sure lawyers know about the looming mandatory filing deadline.
“I think they know it’s coming,” he said of e-filing after dropping off a pleading in the appellate clerk’s office recently — something he won’t be able to do after July 1. “I don’t think they all know it’s mandatory July 1, everything but notices of appeal.”
Some appellate clerks said they share Vigh’s concern. Even though the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals made e-filing available last November and have since made it available in several counties, appellate clerks noted that even some large law firms that appear frequently in appeals have yet to begin e-filing. Clerks said people who come to the office to file after July 1 will be directed to a dedicated computer inside the office lobby where they may access e-filing software. Clerks said they will assist filers who don’t know how to use the system.
State courts have been spreading the word, though. Supreme Court spokeswomanKathryn Dolan noted Chief Justice Loretta Rush recently sent letters to the roughly 18,000 lawyers in the Indiana bar to inform them of the coming July 1 deadlines and promote where they can get information and training, starting with the state’s e-filing website, www.in.gov/judiciary/efile. “This is a big, bold modernization plan,” Dolan said. “When you do something bold like this, different people come on board at different times.”
“There are always going to be a group of lawyers who are nervous about changes,” said Hamilton Circuit Judge Paul Felix, who thinks a greater number in the bar in his county wonder what’s taken so long. “Others who are used to the federal system and electronic filing in federal court and have been waiting for this to happen — the early adopters, if you will — are eager to make the switch from paper to electronic filing.”
State court officials said so far more than 3,000 users have registered for e-filing, and courts have received more than 60,000 electronic filings since the project began. Additional trial courts where e-filing has been introduced — Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Hendricks, Henry, Madison and Shelby counties – will make e-filing mandatory on Sept. 1. Another 15 counties are scheduled to begin e-filing this year, including Elkhart, Johnson, Marion and Monroe counties.
Director of appellate court technology Robert Rath said during the transition to e-filing, anything that initiates an appeal will continue to be filed conventionally. “The plan is to enable notices of appeal, but probably not until 2017,” Rath said. That’s when e-filing is expected to be mandatory statewide.
Service of notice also will change with e-filing. “It’s completely different from how we’ve done service in the trial court for the past 200 years,” said Odyssey implementation specialist Donna Edgar. Instead of clerks fulfilling notice, the responsibility now will fall to the filer, who must return proof of service to the clerk. “We hope everybody’s reading the rules,” she said, noting the applicable rule in appellate cases is Appellate Rule 68. The rule covering e-filing and notice in trial courts is Indiana Trial Rule 86; requirements for service are covered in Trial Rules 4.1-4.14.
Hamilton County Clerk Tammy Baitz said service by filers will be the biggest adjustment for her office and for law firms. “When there’s a change like that, it takes a little while to prepare everyone,” she said. The county bar association has conducted numerous CLEs on e-filing, including a final one on June 29.
Baitz estimates about 40 percent of Hamilton County’s subsequent pleadings were being e-filed ahead of the July 1 deadline. E-filers currently are required to provide electronic and conventional notice of service, but that will change when the entire state switches to e-filing, currently projected before the end of next year. “Once we’re at that point, they can just do e-notice, and I think it’ll be better for (filers),” she said.
Mary DePrez, director and counsel for trial court technology, said it behooves practitioners to sign up for e-filing early. “If you don’t sign up for service, someone can’t serve you electronically,” she said.
DePrez said waivers for e-filing will be rare, though judges will have discretion to exempt people from e-filing on a case-by-case basis.
Vigh said the advent of e-filing means less worry, for instance, about bindings, document colors and other formatting requirements for his appellate filings. He’s looking forward to other efficiencies once the system’s widely adopted, but Felix said some already have been noticed.
Lawyers, he said, “can file motions anytime of the day or night. A couple have even mentioned to me that their motions are being ruled on more quickly because I and other judges are able to review motions even when we’re not in the office.”
Felix said when he’s on a break at a conference or away from the office, for example, he can check into Odyssey and see what sort of motions may have been filed or are pending, and his staff can flag any potential emergency motions. He also has the ability to remotely review anything in a case file he might need to before ruling — a capability he didn’t have until recently.
“Judges can see all the documents that have been e-filed or scanned, and we have access to our dockets all the time, anywhere,” he said. Even in cases where lawyers have been filing motions conventionally, he said, clerk’s office staff members have been scanning them so they’re available electronically.
“The number of attorneys who use the system really like it,” Edgar said. “They’re happy about getting to the mandatory piece.”
Rath, who’s conducted numerous CLE presentations and training sessions on e-filing, said another benefit is greater numbers of court filings will be publicly available in the future. “Once people use it,” he said, “they’re very pleased.”•