The Committee of Chief Judges will propose a state Supreme Court rule this fall to start implementing mandatory electronic filing in all 72 circuit courts by 2016.
While the proposal is not all-encompassing — for example, pro se litigants who file fewer than 10 cases would not have to comply — proponents say it would be a big step to drastically reduce paper at the courthouses and storage facilities, and the problems that sometimes come along with those files.
“It’s so much easier for everybody to be able to receive and restore documents electronically,” Milwaukee County Circuit Chief Judge Jeff Kremers, who is also the chief of the committee, said.”Lost paper documents and lost files occur, despite everyone’s best efforts.”
According to a report put out in August by a subcommittee that studied e-filing, only 25 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties use some sort of e-filing. Between 2009 and 2013, less than 1 percent of all small claims, civil and family cases were filed electronically.
The proposal, if the court accepts it as a rule, would essentially expand a rule the justices approved in 2008. That rule, as written, states that e-filing is voluntary, but the subcommittee asserts that participation so far “has not resulted in the volume that would make (it) worthwhile.”
According to the proposal, implementing mandatory e-filing would start in January 2016 and last through December 2018. Training for court officials would be done through the Consolidated Court Automation Program, or CCAP, and online instructions and phone support would be available for those who file.
“For the court system, the advantages are numerous,” according to the report. “Clerks will see reductions in the time spent on data entry, imaging, moving and storing files, and mailing. The complete court file will (be) available at any time to multiple users … Costs savings may take the form of fewer staff or better use of staff time on higher-level functions.”
The chief judges committee unanimously voted in June to support the move. It is currently being circulated among State Bar committees for input. Bar members also are encouraged to offer feedback.
Subcommittee member and Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick said “the general belief of the chief judges is that this was inevitable.” He said he had been skeptical, but saw how well it worked when he visited the Western District of Wisconsin.
“Clerks will be saving a lot of time because they won’t have to do that data entry,” Koshnick said, adding that judges and attorneys will be able to pull the files up on their computers as well. “It’s big improvement in efficiency.”
Still, it is unclear how the proposal will go over with most attorneys. When the voluntary rule was being discussed, some expressed concern about not having a hard copy.
“There is certainly a learning curve that we’re going to have to go through,” Kremers said. “We’re all comfortable opening a paper file and paging through, spreading them out on their desktop and bench. Many of us are equally adept at doing that on a computer, but some are not. It’s a new way of doing things.”
In Wisconsin, the first e-filing in a case costs $5. Koschnick pointed out that those costs are lower than costs in other states and that the money saved by not having to mail and serve papers will more than offset the fee.
Pam Radtke, president of the Wisconsin Clerks of Circuit Court Association, said the organization supports the proposal.
“It’s just a time saver for all parties involved,” she said.
Radtke also said she did not think that electronic filing would result in smaller budgets for clerks of court offices across the state.
“In almost all of the courthouses, if something is taken away from the clerk, there is more to do,” Radtke said. Follow @eheisigWLJ