Courting the Internet

Attorney Russel Murray III doesn't miss the old days when filing a legal

document meant using paper.

Two minutes after midnight on July 31, with a click of a mouse, Murray

became the first attorney in Colorado to e-file a pleading through the Internet.

And Colorado became the first state with a statewide e-filing system for

the courts.

Murray, a domestic relations attorney in Aurora, Colo., was happy to

leave behind a cumbersome process, which required preparing pleadings on

deadline, making copies, arranging for a messenger to pick up and file

the documents with the court, and making more copies that had to be sent

overnight to opposing counsel and other parties.

"It's a wonderful freedom that it gives us because it's a 24-hour system,

whereas the court is only open from 8 to 5," Murray said. "We were eager

to be included in it for a host of reasons, primarily [because] it's a boon

to the client."

The Colorado judicial system leads the nation in enabling its courts

to accept legal electronic filings in civil, probate, domestic relations

and water cases. Matthew Schiltz, president and chief executive officer

of Bellevue, Wash.-based CourtLink, which outfitted Colorado's courts with

the company's JusticeLink e-filing product, said each of the state's 104

courts will be linked by early next year. "The reasons for doing it were

to provide the court and the bar with a more cost-effective way of filing

pleadings," said Bob Roper, chief information officer for the Colorado Judicial

Branch.

Roper said the state wanted to increase service to the bar by providing

a way for attorneys to more quickly access court records. And the state

also wanted to integrate the electronic filing system with the court case

management system — that way court clerks would have less data entry work.

Nationwide, with millions of cases filed every year and the number growing,

courts are being overwhelmed, Schiltz said. "They are literally drowning

in a sea of paper," he said. "It's a huge national problem with the court

system."

For attorneys and courts, e-filing promises speedier transmission times,

flexibility, round-the-clock accessibility, less administrative work, greater

efficiency, less cost and, of course, no paper. Judges will also have the

ability to issue and serve court orders electronically. And both judges

and attorneys can view all the documents in a case's entire history through

the Web-based platform.

Officials say e-filing is simple. Because an attorney creates a document

electronically anyway, all he or she has to do is log on to www.justicelink.com,

attach the appropriate legal document, designate which court it should be

filed with, what time it should be filed and who else — such as opposing

counsel or a third party — should receive the document.

It costs nothing to subscribe to the system. Attorneys pay 10 cents

a page to file a document and also pay CourtLink a transaction fee to deliver

the documents electronically to the court, opposing counsel and other designated

parties who are not necessarily linked to the system. If other parties do

not have e-mail, CourtLink will fax or mail legal documents.

Colorado courts do not have to pay to be part of the system, said Roper,

and judges and clerks can view and download documents for free.

Colorado tested e-filing about four years ago in Arapahoe County's District

Courts, which serve more than 650,000 people, in a pilot project using a

different vendor. With a mounting caseload in one of the fastest-growing

counties in the country, officials hoped an online system could save time

and money and increase efficiency.

About a year into the project, more than 1,000 documents had been e-filed

without any being lost or misfiled, and no docket entries had been miskeyed.

Roper said the pilot project had been running for a couple of years when

the state judicial system decided to implement it statewide. The state chose

CourtLink after a competitive bidding process.

CourtLink, which only handles public documents, is a legal agent of

the Colorado courts, so once the system receives a document, dates and time-stamps

it, it is deemed as filed with the court, Schiltz said. Last year, CourtLink

facilitated the transmission of more than 2 million documents. It also has

systems in place in Fulton County, Ga., San Diego and San Francisco.

Schiltz said people must register for the site to access records or

e-file a document. In addition to law firms, corporate legal departments,

banks and creditors, private investigative firms, security companies and

media firms use the service, mostly to access records. Although anyone can

register, CourtLink only markets its system to businesses.

Schiltz said integrating Court-Link's product with Colorado's judicial

system was no problem because the case management system was already unified.

But integrating Justice-Link with other state and municipal information

systems that may operate on several different computer networks may pose

a challenge, he said.

Colorado Supreme Court Justice Alex Martinez said his colleagues have

been strong supporters of the system and that the state plans to use e-filing

in criminal cases. But because the two largest users in criminal cases are

government attorneys and public defenders, issues may arise as to who should

pay for it. And certain cases may be excluded from the system, such as sensitive

criminal and juvenile cases that may not be open to the public.

Network security is also a concern, Martinez said, but "we entertain

risk with paper."

Schiltz said CourtLink's system is secure. "On our end, it's not only

a secured environment, but a disaster-proof environment," he said, adding

that the company's data server facilities also have backup security and

power systems.

The Colorado judicial system has also created statewide practice standards

for defining and using e-filing, which should alleviate some concerns and

worries, Murray said. Among the rules is a requirement that the filing parties

maintain printed copies of e-filed or e-served documents with original signatures.

Colorado officials said they see no downside to e-filing, except that

attorneys have been slow to embrace it.

"It's been a little slower than we anticipated in terms of lawyer usage,

but it's picking up every week," Roper said. "It's just convincing people

in an institution that has been dependent on paper for 200 years that maybe

we don't have to be dependent on paper anymore. It's like the first time

anyone used the Internet, the first time anybody used e-mail. They always

had to have somebody hold their hands through the process, and that's basically

what this is all about."

An active member of the Colorado Bar Association, Murray said the state

has 30,000 registered lawyers, of which 20,000 or so are active. Of those,

only about 300 were signed up for e-filing as of the end of October. He

said some colleagues might be resistant because they do not want to work

online, and others never use a computer personally, relying on staff instead.

Martinez agreed that usage has been slow among his colleagues. "Judges

and lawyers in general are somewhat resistant to change," he said. "They're

not known for venturing into new projects. There's a lot of resistance in

that area."

But, Martinez said, future generations of attorneys and judges will

expect technology to be the norm in doing business. "One of the under-lying

philosophies...is that we have to push ourselves," he said. "The leaders

following us and the public will have an expectation regarding technology."

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