Texas counties pilot online court filing system

Two Texas counties are currently piloting a Web-based filing system for state and local courts that will be jointly developed by BearingPoint Inc. and Microsoft Inc.

The companies are offering the product as a managed service so attorneys can file any type of case document, whether criminal or civil, simple or complex, said Frank Giebutowski, Microsoft's general manager for state and local government. Because it's a managed service, courts don't have to pay major capital investments for such a system, he said.

Gary Miglicco, BearingPoint's managing director of national e-government solutions, said attorneys would register with the service and pay fees for filing cases round-the-clock. It could eliminate the use of couriers who normally file documents physically at the courts. He said filers also can track the status of their filed document, checking to see whether it's been delivered, if it's being reviewed, or if it has been accepted by the court, similar to the way UPS lets customers view the status of their packages.

The companies signed a deal with the TexasOnline Authority, the state portal's governing body, in January 2002 and began development last summer. They launched pilots in Fort Bend and Bexar counties last November and plan to expand to another four counties this summer and then nationwide.

"Use of the service by our courts can save attorneys time, reduce total filing costs, and assist courts in becoming more efficient — this is especially critical in these challenging economic times," said Carolyn Purcell, Texas's chief information officer, in a press release. The service, called eFiling for Courts, is an open solution and can interface with any solution, said company officials. It is built on Microsoft technologies, including Windows Server 2000, BizTalk Server, SQL Server database, Internet Security and Acceleration Server, and Visual Studio .NET. The service uses LegalXML (Extensible Markup Language) standard schema and Web services standards like Simple Object Access Protocol.

The biggest challenge, said BearingPoint's Miglicco, is dealing with stakeholders.

"This is a solution with a lot of players in it," he said, referring to attorneys, judges and court clerks. Courts may also have to develop rules on electronic filing, such as what happens if a file isn't received. Officials said there is also an opportunity for revenue-sharing among courts. BearingPoint and TexasOnline share revenues generated from usage of online applications.

While it's unknown how many courts nationwide use e-filing, court officials in the past have said courts are mostly paper-based and are slow to adopt technology.

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