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Justices consider proposal to allow electronic transmission of records on appeal

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//October 13, 2015//

Justices consider proposal to allow electronic transmission of records on appeal

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//October 13, 2015//

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court is considering amending the rules of appellate procedure to allow state trial courts to electronically store and transfer the record of cases on appeal.

The proposed rule would not require any trial court to send records on appeal electronically, merely allow them to if they choose.

The change to the rules would lead to efficiency and savings, the proposal’s supporters have said.

Under the proposed rules, documents in the record would still be submitted in paper copies, but then would be scanned by trial-court clerks, who would then destroy the paper versions after 48 hours. Judges and attorneys would still have the option of printing out portions of the record.

“I’d call it a paper-optional system,” said Jenny Andrews, chief staff attorney for the state Court of Appeals.

Scanning the documents takes about as much time as filing paper versions, but requires fewer steps and less movement, said Diane Fremgen, clerk of the Supreme Court, who petitioned the court to take up the suggested rule change.

Moreover, allowing the electronic transmission of records would decrease costs for circuit and appeals courts.

Fremgen said the Court of Appeals spent more than $28,000 last year on postage costs related to moving the appellate records between Madison and  district offices.

But under the proposed rule, trial courts would no longer have to pay postage to send records on appeal to the Supreme Court clerk, and the appeals court would not have to pay postage to send the records back and forth between the Court of Appeals district offices and the Supreme Court Clerk’s office.

The proposed rule change would also help courts reduce storage costs, making it acceptable for courts to keep an electronic version of records on appeal.

One of the other advantages to electronic transmission of records on appeal would be that more than one person could access the record at any time. The public would also have access to the record, through public-access stations in the court where a case originated, but would not have unrestricted access to parts of the record such as sealed documents.

Fremgen said the Consolidated Court Automation Programs is on track so that the petition can take effect Jan. 1. A test of the system is scheduled to start this fall. The petition won’t lead to additional costs for CCAP because the project is already part of its 2015 annual plan, and can be pursued with existing resources.

Fremgen and Andrews were among a group of state court officials who testified in support of the bill Tuesday at a public hearing held by the Supreme Court. However, discussion of the rule was tabled afterward.

The court’s open rules conference, which is usually held after public hearings on rules petitions, was cancelled early Tuesday morning before the hearing. Court officials said the conference was cancelled so that Justice Rebecca Bradley could become familiar with the petitions the justices are considering.

Bradley was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker on Friday to take a spot on the bench left vacant by the sudden death of Justice Patrick Crooks. She was sworn into office early Monday.

Chief Justice Pat Roggensack said at the end of Tuesday’s hearing that public discussion of the rule would be rescheduled.

Fremgen petitioned the court for the change in June after working with Andrews and others to draft a proposed rule. Fremgen said she is hoping for a Jan. 1 effective date for the amendment to the rules. However, for that to happen, the court must approve the petition by Nov. 1.

The petition will not interfere with a separate petition that was filed in November 2014 by the state’s chief judges committee and is aimed at requiring e-filing in all circuit court cases starting in January. The momentum behind that petition was largely lost when the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s request for the $2.1 million needed to put it into effect did not make it into the state’s current budget.


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