Asked & Answered: Planning underway for statewide e-filing network


By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

Michigan’s State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) asked the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to confer with experts and stakeholders, examine experiences in other states, and provide recommendations for a state e-filing system.

They also looked at survey results from more than 1,000 respondents and reviewed the experiences of court systems throughout the country.

The NCSC recently provided a report and recommendations to the SCAO. John Nevin is the Communications Director for SCAO.

Nevin spoke recently with Steve Thorpe of the Legal News.

Thorpe: Give us some background on the state e-filing project.

Nevin: E-filing is the next step in technological advancement for our courts. It allows for the filing of court documents from anywhere in the state at any time of the day without having to drive to a court office or send large amounts of printed materials via a delivery service, thereby saving time, gas, parking fees, copy costs, and delivery charges. A statewide e-filing system will also accommodate electronic notice and service of process and provide other expanded benefits to improve the efficiency of court interactions by attorneys, parties, and the public. More savings are generated when e-filing is linked to electronic document management systems in the trial courts so that judges and staff can easily access important files at any time and from any place.

Thorpe: How did the National Center for State Courts get involved?

Nevin: Creating a statewide system that can accommodate a variety of local court needs and resources is complicated and time-consuming. With 244 trial courts and 165 funding units, Michigan has a locally-funded and controlled court system and each jurisdiction has the authority to choose its own computer system, depending on the ability and willingness of municipal or county governments, who fund those courts, to purchase and support those systems. To help address these issues and resolve several concerns, the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) asked the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to bring together subject matter experts to consult with stakeholders, examine experiences in other states, and provide recommendations regarding a path forward.

Thorpe: What were their recommendations?

Nevin: NCSC recommended that Michigan move forward with a plan to provide the basic framework — the brain and spine — of the e-filing system, including a no-cost, no frills application that would allow users from across the state to e-file at anytime from anywhere for free. More sophisticated, value-added applications would be available from private vendors for a fee. To develop and fund the e-filing system on an ongoing basis, the NCSC also recommended a small increase in the filing fees paid by court users when initiating civil cases. The benefit of this approach is that it fairly spreads the cost of e-filing across all court users who file civil cases with exceptions for the indigent and governmental agencies, who will continue to file free of charge. In addition, the revenue generated by this approach is directly related to the actual cost of building and maintaining the system.

Thorpe: How will this system differ from the federal system?

Nevin: While the federal government and some states centrally fund and control their court systems, Michigan’s complicated system of local trial courts, different funding sources, and differing computer systems makes a centralized e-filing system like the federal court system virtually impossible. Trying to impose a single system would be prohibitively expensive, jeopardize other court systems that work well, and could delay the benefits of e-filing even longer. Recognizing these constraints, Michigan will move forward with a statewide e-filing system that is affordable and meets the needs of both the judiciary and court users.

Thorpe: How should courts and attorneys prepare for these changes?

Nevin: The National Center highlighted education and awareness as a top priority of any e-filing initiative so that users will be prepared to navigate the new system. While it is still early in the process, courts and attorneys can use the materials on the State Court Administrative Office website to begin educating and familiarizing themselves and their staff about what the e-filing system will entail. Going forward, there will be additional materials on the website, providing details about the system and options for users to sign up to receive updated information.

Thorpe: What’s next? Has a timetable been established?

Nevin: Because of the importance of e-filing and the imminent expiration of the e-filing pilots in key counties (beginning in December 2014), the SCAO will be working with the Michigan Legislature to develop legislation authorizing and funding the statewide e-filing framework. We hope to begin implementing the framework in 2015.