Electronic filing (E-filing) was mandated in Anne Arundel County, Maryland in October 2014, officially marking the transition to transform Maryland’s state court system into a paperless system. The Maryland Electronic Courts (MDEC) project will create a single judiciary-wide integrated case management system that will be used by all the courts in the state court system. The project is being overseen by Chief Judge Barbera and the Judiciary's Technology Oversight Board and being managed by the Administrative Office of the Courts. As the first county in Maryland to test the new e-filing system, attorneys filing in District and/or Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County must now do so electronically (non-criminal cases excluded). Pro se parties may still file paper filings.
What a tremendous task this has been, not only for attorneys and their assistants but for court clerks and judges as well. Many lessons were learned as the system was debuted and many adjustments have been made to the software. The e-filing system now appears to be efficient and is gaining respect by all involved.
For attorneys and their assistants, the process begins by registering with the court e-filing system to obtain log-in and passwords and setting up credit card information for payment of fees. In addition to e-filing registration, attorneys are instructed to register with the Circuit Court Portal for access to court filings and case summaries. Attorneys of record in cases are able to access (and view) all documents comprising the entire court’s record electronically through the portal. Attorneys who are not of record are able to access case filings in an outline format but they are not allowed access to the individual documents.
In the early months of e-filing the court clerks attempted to scan all old files, a daunting task, and quickly found themselves with a large backlog of electronic filings to be processed resulting in four to six week delays in processing the electronic filings. Because of the backlog, the courts have given priority for scanning to files with active filings in an attempt to alleviate the backlog. Currently electronic filings are processed in a 24 to 48-hour turnaround.
The e-filing software is extremely user friendly and incorporates the drop-down menu format. There are four main pages to the e-filing software. On the first page a registered user completes the required case information; location, category, type of case (to be selected from the drop-down menus), attorney and payment information. On the second page the user completes the details of the parties involved in the case. On the third page the user completes the actual filings/pleadings (again selected from drop-down menus). The actual pleadings are then uploaded to the system in PDF format. Case information reports, pleadings, exhibits, affidavits, proposed orders and other documents are all uploaded individually as separate filings. The fourth page displays a summary of information the user has uploaded for review and allows the user to submit all information electronically to the court. (This, of course, is a very brief description of the software.)
Over the course of the past eight months utilizing e-filing, many adjustments were made to the software in an attempt to have the system become more efficient, easier to use, and mirror paper filings. Several seminars were held by the software company. Judges and court employees encouraged e-filing users to critique and offer suggestions for many of the adjustments ultimately added. Templates were added for different types of cases in an attempt to make the system easier to use. In addition to templates, a field entitled “Filing Comments” was added to include a short note to the clerk (in lieu of a cover sheet to identify anything needing attention by the clerk). Additional types of filings and pleadings were added to the drop down menus in an effort to be as clear and consistent as possible.
Some of the best suggestions and tips offered were identified by the Judges. Judges are now reviewing the court files solely electronically and identified areas of improvement. Some of the biggest issues included being very specific in naming documents and describing documents. In addition to specific names for each document (such as Exhibit A to Motion to Postpone versus Exhibit A or Order Denying Summary Motion versus Order), spelling was identified as an area of improvement. Judiciary and case management uses the exact documents uploaded by the user and any misspellings or errors are uploaded exactly as submitted.
Another suggestion regarded proposed orders. Judges are now electronically signing all Orders, and they have requested all proposed orders be modified to include a blank line next to the signature line for the date and the Judge's signature to be electronically filled in. In addition, Judges have requested proposed orders be more specific in identifying/describing the issue in the order, and proposed orders should not be generic orders.
Overall the past eight months have been exciting, to be a part of such a huge undertaking, watching it evolve and seeing the successful results. I am confident more adjustments will be made as e-filing is introduced in other courts throughout the state and country. For the first time courts in different counties will be able to communicate within the same system. I am very proud to have been a part of helping our judicial system move into the 21st century, become “green” by going paperless, and joining the electronic age!