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7th JD leads state in surrogate’s court e-filing

By: Denise M. Champagne//November 2, 2011

7th JD leads state in surrogate’s court e-filing

By: Denise M. Champagne//November 2, 2011//

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The file room in the Monroe County Surrogate’s Court office shows how e-filing has saved space and paper. These shelves are from last year. E-filing started in August 2010 and now includes about 20 percent of the court’s business. Denise M. Champagne
This unit shows how many fewer shelves were needed this year. Denise M. Champagne

The Seventh Judicial District will be the first in the state to offer electronic filing in all of its surrogate’s courts.

It has been available in Monroe County since last August as part of a state e-file pilot project but, this week, expanded to Ontario, Livingston and Wayne counties.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity to be pioneers in the state with Monroe County leading the way and Judge Calvaruso leading the way,” said Judge Craig J. Doran, administrative judge of the eight-county district.

Monroe County Surrogate’s Court Judge Edmund A. Calvaruso credits his staff, Chief Clerk Mark L. Annunziata and Deputy Chief Clerk Sarah T. Sennett, with developing a Universal Case Management System about 10 years ago that has since been adopted by the state and will be beneficial in e-filing.

E-filing allows attorneys to file and access court documents 24/7 from any computer. Sennett said they register with the New York State Courts Electronic Filing System where documents are initially uploaded. The respective courts are then notified the documents have been filed and court personnel are able to access and transfer copies to their own systems. Fees may also be paid online with credit cards.

Annunziata said attorneys like the system because it is more efficient than filing in person, by mail or messenger service; it can be done anytime from anywhere; and complete records are maintained on the secure state website.

Judge Calvaruso said a lot of times attorneys do not have time to work on legal documents except for evenings and weekends and now, they will be able to file them immediately from their office or home. He said it also great because they can pull the files up on their computers.

“It’s a very convenient thing for the lawyers,” Judge Calvaruso said, noting it also saves time and money in delivery, postage and parking.

Annunziata said courts like it because documents are directly uploaded to their databases instead of being hand scanned which can take a lot of time. He said that it also greatly reduces the need for creating, tracking and storing paper records and file folders.

Public records may be accessed at four computer workstations in the surrogate’s court office.

Annunziata said more than 10,000 documents have been filed electronically in Monroe County Surrogate’s Court since it joined the program last summer. He said more than 1,000 proceedings have been initiated via e-file or converted to an e-file and that more than 200 attorneys and paralegals are participating.

Judge Calvaruso said his court ordinarily handles 7,500 to 8,000 cases a year.

“We believe we’re at about 20 percent of our business, but it’s going up quickly,” Annunziata said. “Our attorney users love it so it’s not a hard sell. Most attorneys are working with computers and scanners and this kind of equipment already.”

Another plus is that attorneys already using the system in Monroe County will be able to expand their usage for matters in the other counties in the district in which they do business.

Judge Calvaruso said he was kind of surprised at how well it is being received; he expected more resistance.

Ronald W. Pawelczak, the district’s executive director, said staff, with cooperation from the Monroe County Bar Association and other bar associations, has tried reaching out to practitioners.

As part of that, Annunziata was to be in Geneva today training people as part of a CLE in collaboration with the bar associations in all eight counties. He expects many more legal professionals will register as a result.

Pawelczak said e-filing will be available in Cayuga, Seneca, Steuben and Yates counties by the end of the year, bringing all surrogate’s courts in the district online. He said the state Office of Court Administration has been very cooperative in providing the necessary technical infrastructure.

The district is also working with Jeffrey Carucci, statewide coordinator for e-filing, New York State Unified Court System.

Pawelczak said mandatory filing is slated to begin in Monroe County in February. Exceptions — opt-out provisions — will be made for parties that are not yet ready to file electronically. Not everyone will have the needed equipment.

“It’s an escape hatch for those that are fearful,” Judge Doran said.

Sennett said the response has been very enthusiastic and she has not had a single complaint on e-filing in more than a year, since it started.

“One of the reasons I’m so excited about this is this helps pave the way for e-filing in other counties,” Judge Doran said. “Our counties will make it easier for us to lead the way in the other courts. It works. It’s a good thing. It’s a positive experience for the lawyers and the courts.”

Also involved in the state pilot project are surrogate’s courts in Chautauqua, Erie and Queens counties.

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

Five counties — including Monroe and Livingston — were included in 2010 legislation as part of a major expansion of the experimental e-filing program originally implemented in New York County. The law made the program permanent, eliminates restrictions on categories of cases and permits its use statewide in supreme and surrogate’s courts and the Court of Claims.

The chief administrative judge, currently Judge Ann Pfau who is changing jobs Dec. 1, must consult with the affected county clerks before mandatory e-filing can be instituted in each county.

Judge Doran said the state is still working out a system for implementing e-filing in commercial and medical malpractice cases, the first types of cases to be included in other courts. Also working on that are County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo and Supreme Court Justices Kenneth R. Fisher and Matthew A. Rosenbaum who are leading a district E-filing Implementation Committee.

Pawelczak said the Seventh Judicial District has also had success with a family court pilot project, in collaboration with the state, in Steuben County which will be expanded to Ontario and Livingston counties over the next several months and throughout the district within a couple of years.

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