D.C. court pilots e-filing

Burdened with one of the nation's highest per capita caseloads, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia has embarked on a yearlong electronic filing pilot that officials hope will streamline the legal process.

Through an administrative order, Chief Judge Rufus King III mandated e-filing in Civil I cases. Those are considered the most complex of civil cases and include nearly all of the court's tobacco and asbestos litigation. King's order sets rules defining the use of e-filing in the Washington, D.C., court (www.dcbar.org/dcsc). The pilot would include 600 such cases.

Beginning May 1, litigants' attorneys are required to file all pleadings, orders and other legal documents via the Internet. Exceptions include filing an initial complaint or documents that are under seal because, for example, they contain proprietary information or involve juveniles.

Bellevue, Wash.-based CourtLink Corp., which provides electronic document retrieval and filing in 74 state and local courts nationwide, was selected to do the pilot. The company makes its money by charging attorneys a flat $2 transaction fee for filing a document, plus 10 cents a page when they file via the company's Web site.

The company supplied the Superior Court, which did not have to outlay funds for the project, with a public-access terminal in the civil clerk's office so the public can research, download, view and print electronically filed documents. The deal also included computer upgrades for the two participating judges.

E-filing has grown in popularity among courts and attorneys because it offers faster transmission times, continuous accessibility, less administrative work and lower costs.

"Imagine in an urban court setting with our volumes and volumes of files where multiple court parties have access to documents simultaneously 24 hours, seven days a week," said Associate Judge Herbert Dixon Jr., the Civil Division's presiding judge. The court handles one case for every three Washington, D.C., residents, one of the highest per capita in the country, said Dixon, who is overseeing the pilot.

In the 600 pilot cases, Dixon said the court has the opportunity to see how e-filing works at every step of the process from recently filed, to those undergoing discovery, to cases set for trial. Some of the existing paper files in those cases may be digitized depending on need.

An attorney advisory committee will evaluate and discuss the project throughout the pilot, he said. After a year, e-filing may be used in the probate and tax, criminal, and landlord and tenant divisions.

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