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Post office consolidation could push more toward e-file options

Traditional mail is maintaining its grip on Wisconsin’s legal community in the midst of U.S. Postal Service consolidations and the slow emergence of electronic filing.

Kathy Parman, an accountant at Mallery & Zimmerman SC, Wausau, said at her law firm, the reason is simple: It’s still cheaper to file the old-fashioned way.

“Our clients are asking us to be frugal with their money,” Parman said. “We’re not going to personally bear the cost of convenience when the post office serves the purpose for getting documents there on time.”

Filing through the mail might only require a postage stamp. All e-filings require a $5-per-case convenience charge assessed by Wisconsin Consolidated Court Automation Programs.

But the consolidation of four Postal Service distribution and processing centers in Wisconsin, combined with a change in service standards for first-class mail, could add a day to delivery, according to Postal Service spokesperson Sean Hargadon.

On Feb. 23, the Postal Service announced it will move processing and distribution services in Wausau, Eau Claire, La Crosse and Kenosha to other centers in the state sometime after May 15.

Instead of one or two days, it could take three for first-class mailings to reach their destinations, Hargadon said.

After the consolidation, Wausau distribution will filter through the Green Bay center 96 miles away.

The potential for an additional day of delivery could force Parman’s firm to reconsider the timing, but not the mode, of its case deliveries to courts, she said. The solution will be mailing things a day or two earlier, instead of e-filing, said Parman, adding her firm’s deliveries are 100 percent through the mail.

“The question becomes: If I mail something four buildings down the street, is it technically going to Green Bay as opposed to getting there the next day?” she said. “My assumption is yes.”

She declined to say how many cases the firm files, but said the decision to avoid e-filing is both financial and logistical.

“There is an additional cost to e-file and not every county does it,” Parman said. “It might be the answer if you are only dealing with one courthouse, but we do business statewide, so that isn’t the case for us.”

Only 16 Wisconsin counties offer e-filing for small claims cases, and eight allow it for family and civil cases.

Since the Wisconsin Supreme Court authorized e-filing in 2008, only about 2,500 cases have been electronically filed, said Tom Sheehan, court information officer. The goal is to eventually equip every county for e-filing, he said, including Milwaukee County, which is planning to launch e-filing for small claims, civil and family cases this spring.

The scattering of counties that offer e-filing is likely a barrier to widespread use, said Theresa Russell, clerk of courts in Washington County, one of the first to use the system.

“For the $5 fee, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be more efficient for lawyers,” she said, “to be able to sit at their desk and hit send instead of having someone come in or mail it.”

But Parman said limited exposure isn’t the barrier.

“From a conceptual basis, it sounds cool,” she said. “I guess if I were a law firm that basically only did neighborhood divorces in one courthouse, I see how it could be convenient.”


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