A number of federal and state courts allow electronic filings, and thus are in various stages of automating dockets. 73
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has an electronic filing system which has been in operation for five years. An interested party applies, using a liaison person to manage individual user accounts and passwords. Each individual user submits a bona fide signature page with express authorization for the clerk to append it to any filing (to satisfy Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 requirements). Filings are made via an ASCII or WordPerfect 5.0 format. Payment is made by charges made to the filer's credit card. The service also permits access to other filings as well as e-mail to individual accounts.
The LEXIS Complex Litigation Docket Filing ("CLAD") system was used in the Macy's bankruptcy litigation in the Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York, Delaware state asbestos cases and an Atlanta federal toxic emissions case. Since 1991, the system has been used in some1200 cases for about 35,000 filings. Exhibits cannot be appended electronically yet and still must be filed in the traditional manner. Future plans include scanning for exhibits, but the lack of common standards have limited this so far. Fees are assessed for downloading and filing, but the court pays nothing for the service. Authentication is established by the user's password and ID at login and no other signature confirmation is required. Users apply to and are confirmed by the court, so only those parties involved in the case may file.
The New York County Civil Court has implemented an electronic access system with plans to develop electronic filing capability soon, but no indication as to when full usage is expected. The National Center for State Courts ("NCSC") is providing assistance.
New Jersey's state legislature authorized development of electronic filing on June 24, 1994, for the state court system. The Administrative Office of the Courts ("AOC") has an internally developed access system that was tested by some New Jersey firms for access and will be the basis for electronic filing capability.
The Maryland State Bar is on the verge of starting a six month electronic filing pilot program, in which different judicial circuits can employ contractor software and connections. The Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to allow use of electronic filing under guidelines developed by the state court administrator. 74
The Utah court system has issued guidelines for formatting electronically filed documents, based on SGML.
The major obstacles at this point for court electronic filing seem to be authentication, fee collection, records retention management and a general reluctance to move away from safe and tangible paper.
The Administrative Office of U. S. Courts has developed two draft EDI transactions sets for use by the bankruptcy courts. One, Court Notice Transaction Set 175, allows courts to give notice to interested parties about significant judicial events related to a specific case. The other, Court Submission Transaction Set 176 can be used to submit a legal document or claim and to receive docket numbers, and claim disposition information.
These transaction sets utilize a structured, fixed-field, form rather than free-form text as used in most court litigation documents. The NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel is modifying the 176 transaction set to handle full text legal documents. The modified transaction set is targeted for late 1995 or early 1996 submission to the ANSI X.12 committee for approval.
73 Kevin Ehrlich, Villanova Law School Class of 1997, law clerk to the author, provided helpful research in connection with this section.
74 Md.Rules of Proc. 1-322 (1995) (prohibiting electronic filing except pursuant to Rule 1217A); Md.Rules of Proc. 1217A (providing for submission of county plans for electronic filing of pleadings and papers to State Court Administrator, and setting criteria for approval).
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