The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Oct. 28 took another step in broadening an electronic filing system for attorneys, but the court also made it known it is not willing to go entirely paperless anytime soon.
Starting on July 1, 2009, attorneys in the state will be expected to file briefs and no-merit reports with state appellate courts and petitions for review and subsequent responses with the Supreme Court, both in paper and electronic form.
All seven justices unanimously adopted, in principle, rules that will require both filings.
However, the court made it clear that while an electronic version of a brief, report or petition should be filed concurrently with a paper version, the paper version will still be used for jurisdictional purposes.
“The rule should make clear that all matters of timeliness are governed by the paper copy,” Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson said.
“We don’t want it wandering in three weeks later,” she continued, adding that dates will be based on the filing of the paper version.
While the court accepted the majority of the original revisions to Wis. Stat. Secs. 809.19, 809.32 , 809.62 and 809.80, the justices did make one significant modification to increase the benefits for attorneys.
At the behest of Justice David T. Prosser, the court decided to allow electronically filed appellate briefs to be accessed by members of the general public. But the court also ruled that brief appendices, which will not have to be electronically filed by attorneys, also will not be publicly available on-line.
Initially, the proposal called for only the parties involved in the case, along with the respective justice or judge to have access to the electronically filed brief.
Schanker indicated the clerk of courts office will transfer appendixes from paper to electronic format, since some attorneys do not have the proper scanning equipment.
“It would be a minimal cost to our staff and it’s a lot like making a Xerox, but attorneys who do not have the equipment should not be required to purchase it,” Schanker said.
Several justices suggested that other attorneys may be interested in reading briefs about cases which may be parallel to ones they are involved with, but the court also will allow parties involved in the cases to redact confidential information, if necessary.
“We will leave it to the parties to decide,” said Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.
The rule is considered a “baby step” toward an eventual movement to an entirely electronic filing system in the appellate and Supreme Courts, said petitioners Court of Appeals Chief Judge Richard S. Brown and Supreme Court Clerk of Court David R. Schanker.
“Many of us do our brief reading at home, on the road or at airports because we have a huge volume of cases that have to keep going,” Brown said. “This rule would be a tremendous help in our efficiency if we could reach computers on the road.”
A rule which allows voluntary e-filing at the circuit court level was adopted by the Supreme Court last spring, but Washington County is the only jurisdiction which uses the system for a variety of civil court proceedings. The federal courts in the state have mandatory e-filing requirements for briefs.