Did Santa Bring You Instructions for E-Filing?
by Doug McQuiston
Effective Jan. 1, whether you're ready or not, e-filing will become a way of life.
By the time you read this, you may already have a pleading waiting for you in that new case you just got, at a secure Web site run by JusticeLink.
Whether you noticed it or not, this private enterprise has forever changed the way we will be filing pleadings and motions in Colorado's District Court. What started as a pilot program in Arapahoe County on July 31, 2000, has gone statewide effective Jan. 1.
The message the courts want to send is: Learn it! Love it! Live it! They like this system. A lot. They're going to want you to like it too. Soon. Once you look at it, you'll wonder what's not to like. What once took frantic photocopying, collating, stapling and binding--then a last-minute race through rush-hour traffic to the courthouse to beat a 5 p.m. closing time--can now be accomplished with a few clicks of your mouse.
Just think about that for a minute. We will have what Manhattan, Chicago and D.C. don't, right here in the high country. Ours is a "first-in-the-nation" statewide electronic filing system for all probate, civil, domestic relations and water court cases throughout Colorado. The Wild West has gone online. Are you ready for it? Can you afford not to be?
JusticeLink's system essentially digitizes the filing, service, access and organization of pleadings in any civil case. Originals will be signed digitally, then transmitted instantly to the court, fully encrypted and secure, where they will be immediately and automatically filed and indexed. The requisite copies will be electronically served on all counsel by deposit in a secure Web site whose address will be provided to all parties at the outset of a case. An instant e-mail notification will be sent to all parties' counsel telling them there is a new pleading awaiting their perusal at the case-specific Web site. Those not online will receive a paper copy in the mail, along with an information insert on how to get online.
The pleadings and their attachments will be stored electronically, instantly retrievable through your computer. Once you've filed and served your motion, and all parties have responded, the judge then can prepare a ruling on his notebook PC from the beach in Maui, then instantly serve an order to the parties' counsel via the secure Web site.
If you're one of the Luddites who has sat out the online revolution, fear not--no one is going to make you give up your IBM Selectric Typewriter and postage stamps just yet. Let's just say maybe you will want to start shopping for a computer now. It won't be long before you will be left too far behind to catch up. The courts will still accept paper filings, but in a few months they may not like them much. They have spent too much time, effort and money on the new e-filing system to see it ignored. They will give you a chance to figure out how to turn your computer on, but then they will want you to join the fun.
The system solves too many problems for them to allow it to go unused. Let's start with the biggest problem: where to put all the paper you're planning to bother them with this year. In the "old days," (say, about 10 years ago) the average domestic or civil case took up, at most, a few inches of space on a shelf. Now, even the simplest car-crash case can take up an entire shelf. Space costs money, which, thanks to Doug Bruce, is in short supply.
By encouraging e-filing, courts statewide hope to reduce the explosive growth of their storage needs. But that isn't the only problem e-filing solves. Once the system becomes the norm, and all case files are stored electronically, judges and their clerks will have instant access to any pleading or motion, at any time, or even at the same time someone else is using it. The judge won't have to send his/her clerk down to the file room to retrieve the file, hope the motion has "caught-up to the file," and then hope she can wade through the inches of paper to find the document she needs to make an informed decision. Pleadings and motions filed electronically will "catch-up to the file" within seconds.
The system will allow considerable flexibility in what you can attach to your motions, too. Contracts, insurance policy excerpts, financial statements, etc. will be easily scanned and attached. But since anything that can be scanned, or created digitally, can be "attached" to your pleading, you can include photos of the house at issue in a property dispute, an animated accident reconstruction clip in your trial management order, or even video clips of opposing counsel trying to bully your witness at a deposition, in a motion for protective orders. Imagine being able to insert a "hyperlink" to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site into the body of your product liability brief. The judge and the parties can then click there at their convenience to see detailed information on the product recall dealing with exactly the product at issue in your suit, all quicker than your judge can say "motion for summary judgment denied!"
You can leave the pleadings, motions and attachments stored electronically on your case-specific secure Web site for ready retrieval from any PC with Internet access (you will have a password). You can also store copies on your computer's hard drive to access when you may not be able to go online. Instead of schlepping a 50-pound briefbag to your next out-of-town deposition, you'll be able to take everything you need in your three-pound notebook computer, all electronically indexed, searchable by key word, date or title, and ready for use within seconds.
The pleadings and motions you file can be highlighted, excerpted and magnified during a hearing, trial or deposition, with the original remaining unaltered. The magic of Adobe Acrobat (the required software suite, which will allow full use of the e-filing system) will give you all sorts of creative and time-saving document retrieval, as well as search and mark-up tools.
Of course, this will cost. But so does postage, copy paper, photocopying toner, laser-printer cartridges and secretarial time at the copy machine. I won't go into the cost details in this little piece; generally, receiving a pleading will be free, and filing one will cost, but not as much as you might think. If you want to know more, go to www.justicelink.com. If you aren't online and don't know how to go to www.justicelink.com, ask your kids--they'll show you.