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State to expand e-filing for court docs

By: Denise M. Champagne//June 29, 2011

State to expand e-filing for court docs

By: Denise M. Champagne//June 29, 2011//

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The electronic filing of court records will expand under new legislation approved last week by the state Senate and Assembly.

Joining Monroe and other upstate counties in a pilot program will be Onondaga and Allegany counties and two other counties outside of the Fourth Department.

“We’re excited about being a part of the e-filing program and we’re looking forward to working with the courts in implementing this,” said Onondaga County Clerk M. Ann Ciarpelli. “I’m hoping to have a good program that will allow us to integrate with the courts and make it a seamless e-filing from the attorneys’ standpoint.”

Ciarpelli said she is in the process of setting up appointments with local court officials with whom she expects to meet with in mid-July. A tentative meeting with state Office of Court Administration staff is expected by the end of July.

Jeffrey Carucci, OCA’s statewide coordinator for electronic filing, and some technical staff were expected today in Monroe County to check on the progress of its pilot program launched a year ago.

Monroe County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo said there will be a hands-on demonstration including live filings from a law office. A public demonstration is expected to be announced later this summer.

“We have worked with local law firms in developing and testing out the filing for ease of use and we have taken suggestions to enhance the use of e-filing,” Dinolfo said. “I think that once we unveil the system, that people will find that it’s easy to use and user friendly.”

The county was originally expected to start electronically filing commercial and medical malpractice cases last fall. Dinolfo said what has been happening since then is the OCA has been developing uniform standards to be used statewide.

“Through our vendor, we have been ready, willing and able to accept filing,” she said. “We’re ready to file tomorrow. The piece that is continuing in development and actually making huge progress is to get those documents transmitted to the OCA so the court records can flow through the court system. The OCA is looking for a statewide system that is consistent from county to county so a filer would have a similar experience whether they file in Monroe County, Livingston County or any other county in New York state where e-filing is available.”

Dinolfo chairs an E-filing Implementation Committee appointed a year ago by Justice Thomas M. Van Strydonck, who also named Supreme Court Justices Kenneth R. Fisher and Matthew A. Rosenbaum to lead the committee.

The plan is to still start with commercial filings. Dinolfo said medical malpractice filings are being considered as well. She said the electronic process will mirror what happens with paper filings, minus the trip to her office. Judges, attorneys and other interested parties will be able to file and access court documents from any computer.

“It’s going to be a great efficiency for practitioners, the courts and for the public,” Dinolfo said. “We’re really looking forward to it. Another great benefit of having the e-filing directly through the Monroe County clerk’s website is that we will always be here to serve the public, answer their questions and make sure that their experience with the county clerk’s office is a positive one.”

Monroe County will also offer training at City Place on West Main Street in conjunction with the court system and Monroe County Bar Association.

“We’ll be involved in training, as well as the rollout of e-filing in federal court,” said Bryan D. Hetherington, president-elect of the MCBA.

“We’ll need to provide training to our members so they’re able to experience the efficiencies of e-filing and avoid the frustrations that it can sometimes cause.”

Monroe and Livingston counties were among four upstate selected last year by Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau for participation in mandatory e-filing of certain documents.

Livingston was in the process of developing its own program for commercial court documents, but got sidelined last fall when its vender, RecordFusion, was acquired by PropertyInfo Corp. of Texas, the same company developing Monroe County’s program.

Livingston County Clerk James A. Culbertson said the vendor determined both counties were doing the same thing and decided to finish developing Monroe County’s first.

He said the two counties have been working together. Culbertson said because of a lack of commercial filings, Livingston will start with foreclosures instead. He expects that to happen by the end of the year with the county adding all civil cases by the second quarter of 2012.

“I still look forward to completing our development work and having a pilot by the end of the year so Livingston County can move forward,” Culbertson said.

The new legislation, which has yet to be signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, calls for mandatory filing in surrogate’s courts and exploring the introduction of e-filing in criminal and family courts.

“It looks to me like the bill is an attempt to speed up the process of e-filing,” Hetherington said. “I believe it’s part of OCA’s attempt to deal with some of the funding reductions that they’re dealing with from the Legislature.

“I think e-filing, in general, is a benefit to lawyers and to the public,” he added. “There are obviously privacy issues that have to be attended to and there are certain technical support and help desk issues that are critical to lawyers. I think one of the things that have the federal system work as well as it has worked is that there is a strong staffing of the help desk in the Western District.”

Under the new law, Judge Pfau would also be required to consult with affected stakeholders in a county before mandatory e-filing is required in Surrogate’s Court. She would continue maintaining an advisory committee to assist her with mandatory e-filing in civil parts, as well as create additional advisory committees to implement e-filing in surrogate’s court.

No mandatory e-filing of civil cases in supreme court may go forward in any county outside of New York City without the agreement of its county clerk. Regular reports must also be filed.

E-filing in state courts was first authorized by the Legislature as a pilot program in 1999 for civil cases in certain counties on a voluntary basis.

Still exempt from mandatory e-filing are Article 78s, Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 cases, matrimonial actions and Election Law proceedings.

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