Illinois Bar Journal

The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

October 2016Volume 104Number 10Page 12

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LawPulse

Court system readies for mandatory e-filing

By
Matthew Hector

The AOIC has hired a Texas firm to create a statewide e-filing system, which is scheduled to roll out next year in the supreme and appellate court.

For the past 14 years, the Illinois Supreme Court has adopted numerous rules, policies, and initiatives promoting e-filing to streamline the efficient administration of justice. It first launched an e-filing pilot program on September 19, 2002. Five counties then began accepting electronic filings. On October 24, 2012, the court authorized permanent e-filing upon circuit court request and court approval. In 2014, e-filing was allowed in criminal and traffic cases. As of January 2016, only 15 of 102 Illinois counties had been granted approval for e-filing.

On January 22, 2016, the court entered a new order (M.R. 18368), which has accelerated the timeline for mandatory e-filing statewide. By July 1, 2017, e-filing of civil cases will be mandatory for the Illinois Supreme and Appellate Courts. Six months later, e-filing of civil cases will be mandatory in all Illinois circuit courts. That deadline is January 1, 2018.

Tyler Technologies gets the nod

To meet this goal, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) has hired Tyler Technologies to roll out a centralized, statewide e-filing system. Tyler's Odyssey File & Serve platform is currently used in 19 states.

According to Michael Tardy, director of the AOIC, the unified e-filing system will increase efficiency and streamline the litigation process for lawyers and pro se litigants. Tardy says that the decision to use Tyler was based in part on the company's success providing statewide e-filing for Indiana (a state half the size of Illinois) and Texas (a state twice the size).

In the past, some smaller counties have not requested approval for e-filing due to budget constraints. Tardy says that the General Assembly created document storage and automation funds to help alleviate this financial pressure. Fees are charged to litigants, which are then channeled to the fund to help pay for the transition to e-filing.

He also says that SB 3162, signed into law on August 19, 2016, imposes court automation fees which will be used to get e-filing "up and running." Given that the court has set a hard deadline for compliance with its order, Tardy says that the court system will continue to find ways to make statewide e-filing a reality.

Aside from financial challenges, there are also some technological hurdles to overcome. Illinois courts currently use 13 different case management systems. Making those work with the new e-filing system involves approaching each vendor individually. Some systems will require more immediate attention. For example, all records on appeal should be electronic by July 1, 2017.

Appellate clerks voice concern

The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (CDLB) reports that the clerks of Illinois' appellate districts have different views regarding their ability to meet the court's deadline. David Thomas, Clerks: July 1 e-file deadline will be tough (CDLB, Sept. 13, 2016). While the second district has e-filing in all of its counties, the fourth and fifth districts do not. John J. Flood, the fifth district's clerk told the CDLB that he finds the July 1 deadline to be unrealistic due to the massive overhaul that will be required to get the current systems into compliance. Carla Bender, the fourth district's clerk, reportedly has similar concerns. The first district is similarly challenged by the deadline, according to the article.

Once the unified e-filing system is up and running, there will be kiosks in county courthouses, which will allow lawyers and pro se litigants access to the system. All users will also be able to access the system remotely, either through paid premium portals or Tyler's free filing service. Tardy says that while the system provided by Tyler is more basic than the premium portals, it gives users a free alternative. This may be useful for, say, inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections - there are no kiosks set up in state correctional facilities yet.

Ultimately, the new system is expected to increase efficiency and streamline the court system. What does this mean for the staffing levels at county courthouses? Tardy says that most states with e-filing "look towards eventual cash savings on staffing."

While courthouses will theoretically not need people to accept paper filings, they may need individuals with different skill sets. His "initial read" is that there will be a shift towards personnel to help integrate the existing e-filing and case management systems into the new statewide system.

"This is a situation where we will have to spend money to save money," he says. "That's where we're at right now. In three to five years the workforce may be different." He acknowledges that the transition won't be easy, but says that it needs to occur.

Matthew Hector
Matthew Hector is a senior associate at Woerthwein & Miller.


October 2016 LawPulse