November 2011 • Volume 99 • Number 11 • Page 550
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The electronic courtroom: E-filing and videoconferencing
The Illinois Supreme Court pursues electronic filing and adopts a rule allowing testimony by videoconference.
Continuing its embrace of 21st century technology, the Illinois Supreme Court is taking steps toward implementing electronic filing and has adopted a new rule permitting testimony by videoconference. Additionally, the Special Supreme Court Committee on E-Business has continued to meet and, according to chairman Bruce R. Pfaff, is making good progress toward its goal of developing guidelines for counties and circuit courts to use in their own e-filing, e-service, and electronic case management initiatives.
Support at the top
At presstime, Pfaff said his committee had held four meetings and had a fifth scheduled for mid-October. The committee has acquired voluminous information on e-filing, e-service, electronic case management, and other e-business initiatives from other states, from the federal system, and from the five authorized and other potential pilot projects in Illinois counties, he said. He expects the committee to devote its mid-October meeting to working on potential standards and guidelines for circuit court e-business to recommend to the court for adoption.
"It's not our plan to mandate that a certain e-business solution be used or to choose among them, but, rather, to have guidelines that any reliable and effective company providing e-business solutions could comply with, so that counties can pick and choose among those available or develop their own," he said.
Though Pfaff believes a unified statewide e-filing system would be ideal, he has reservations about its near-term feasibility in Illinois. "The existence of many case management systems in different circuit courts makes it difficult to unify e-filing and e-service because of the interface between e-filing and e-service and the case management system."
He noted that many counties have already purchased different systems and integrated them into their operations. "It is very hard to do a one-size-fits-all without requiring every court that has a system in place to go through substantial changes. We are trying to create a structure of guidelines so that counties who are ready, willing, and able to go to electronic filing and document management can use whatever system they want as long as it meets certain basic criteria."
Pfaff said his committee is working speedily to complete its mandate. "My goal is to move quickly because e-business moves quickly. Every day that we do not have an e-business solution for our courts, we are losing the opportunity to save lawyers, courts, judges and clients time and money."
And the committee has the support of the man at the top, Pfaff said. "Chief Justice Kilbride has been present and highly engaged at all of our meetings. He's emphasized his interest in coming up with e-business solutions with all possible speed to save money for lawyers, clients, and courts. That can only be good for Illinois."
At the same time, the supreme court is working on its own e-filing system. The court's request for information, published September 26, provides specifications for an e-filing system and invites experienced third party vendors and service providers that currently provide or assist in the electronic filing of court documents to express their interest. The RFI and a list of questions and answers about its provisions are available on the court's website at http://state.il.us/court/Procurement/2011/SCT_eFiling.asp.
Videconference testimony: "a tremendous time and money saver"
The court took another opportunity to enable circuit courts to use technology to save time and money by adopting new SCR 241, Use of Video Conference Technology in Civil Cases. The rule permits the presentation of testimony in court by contemporaneous transmission from a different location, on good cause shown in compelling circumstances and with appropriate safeguards in place.
The committee comments explain that good cause and compelling circumstances are likely to arise when a witness is unexpectedly unable to attend trial due to accident or illness, for example, but is able to testify from a remote location. The comments state that the parties' agreement to present testimony remotely may establish good cause and compelling circumstances, but a court will not be bound by such a stipulation and retains the discretion to require live testimony.
Pfaff, an experienced trial lawyer, welcomed the new rule. "I use videoconferencing whenever possible. It's a tremendous time and money saver."
He much prefers testimony by videoconference to an evidence deposition. "The transactional costs are far less because you don't have to edit it and you don't have to listen to objections that counsel might not make at trial but feel compelled to preserve in the context of a deposition. You can see the witness on a TV screen, so you know how he acts.
"It makes scheduling trials much easier, too; trying to round up a time that's convenient for fifteen or twenty witnesses [who may be in different areas of the country] is not easy," he continued. "We would always prefer to have the witness in person, but if we have to choose between a continuance and testimony by videoconference, we'll take the videoconference."
The court issued the rule October 4 and made it effective immediately.