D.C. court mandates electronic filing for some civil cases

Burdened with one of the nation's highest per capita caseloads, the Superior

Court of the District of Columbia has embarked on a yearlong e-filing pilot

program 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 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 program will 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 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 ratios 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

cases, 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 program, 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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