Coming soon to a circuit court near you — electronic filing.
The state Supreme Court last week adopted in principle, a petition to implement a voluntary e-filing system in Wisconsin, which means attorneys and pro se litigants will soon be able to log on, rather than run out to file case information.
Director of State Courts A. John Voelker said many in the legal community have been clamoring for the system, ever since both federal district courts in the state adopted mandatory e-filing standards.
But while the process is expected to save trees and time, it may not be right for everyone.
Voelker indicated that Justice Louis B. Butler Jr. had reservations about the “paperless” nature of the process. Butler was the only justice to vote against adoption of the petition at a hearing on April 8.
Washington County Clerk of Courts Kristine Deiss supported the petition during the April 8 Supreme Court session, but in a separate interview acknowledged that the concept of e-filing could be a “hard sell” in some areas.
“I see it taking a while, if ever, to get to where courts are entirely paperless,” said Deiss, president of the Wisconsin Clerks of Court Association. “From my perspective as a clerk for over 28 years, the harder sell will be to the judges. A lot of them still want to have paper in hand.”
Smaller counties with fewer practitioners may also want to evaluate the cost benefits, because of the potential need for additional equipment and staff, said Deiss. If a plaintiff’s attorney chooses to file electronically, but the defense attorney does not, someone from the clerk’s office would have to scan in the information to make it available online.
“Some counties may not be able to do it, because in addition to e-filing, they have to have the capability of scanning,” said Deiss. “In some counties, budgets are tight and there are already staff shortages.”
Voelker said it is unknown which counties will adopt an e-filing system once implementation begins during the next year, but start-up costs should be minimal.
The system will be sustained by a “convenience fee” for each filing, according to Voelker, who compared the surcharge to that associated with filing income taxes online.
“We hope to keep it relatively nominal,” said Voelker.
Two Milwaukee law firms, Rausch, Sturm, Israel & Hornik, S.C., and The Kohn Law Firm, S.C., are participating in an e-filing pilot project for small claims collection cases in Washington and Kenosha counties.
In addition to the $85 filing fee, there is a $2 surcharge per filing, according to Kathy Clancy, litigation manager at Rausch. Since the firms began the project in 2005, more than 1,000 actions were filed electronically through November 2007.
Clancy said there were initial concerns about how the filing fee would be handled. The firm tried a variety of payment methods including check and wire transfer, but said some court staff was frustrated because the fees and documents were not received at the same time.
“They were dealing with huge volume from just these few law firms who were in this pilot,” said Clancy.
Deiss said she has not encountered any processing problems during the pilot and the process should be the same regardless of whether payment is made remotely or in-person.
Voelker envisioned trust accounts being established by attorneys and firms, from which filing fees could be drawn immediately after a case document is filed electronically.
“Or simply use a credit card,” said Voelker. “Have the money deposited right away, so clerks don’t have to do any accounting.”
I am one of the deputy clerks for Wash Co Small Claims Division and process the e-filings (together with Joanne) from our County. I also worked for an attorney for 23 years whose office was not located near the courthouse, so when we filed new cases, the postage itself for mailing over the copies to be authenticated — and then returned to our office — was far greater than the $2.00 per case fee assessed for e-filings. And with the price of gas these days — even if your office was right down the street from the courthouse — it’s probably worth it!! ;) It is a very efficient method to file new cases — especially for firms that deal with filing volumes of cases (i.e. subrogation; foreclosure; small claims). The Rausch and the Kohn firms have developed a very good system for timely filing their paperwork to take default judgments.
~ Sue G.