By: Denise M. Champagne//July 20, 2012
By: Denise M. Champagne//July 20, 2012//
The electronic filing of court documents will be expanding into certain family and criminal courts under a pilot program authorized in recent legislation, signed Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti will select up to six counties this fall for mandatory e-filing pilot programs.
“We’re very pleased that the governor signed this bill because we are looking forward to expanding e-filing throughout the state,” said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration.
Committees established last year by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, as directed by the state Legislature, recommended e-filing be phased in slowly in select criminal and Family Court cases in a small number of venues.
The law calls from initially having consensual e-filing programs in Family Court and the criminal parts of Supreme and County courts, converting to mandatory e-filing in the counties Judge Prudenti selects.
Implementation in criminal matters will require the consent of the local district attorney, criminal defense offices that represent 25 percent or more of defendants represented by public defense providers and the county clerk. Family Court e-filing will be subject to approval by the local authorized presentment agency, the local child protective agency and the local Family Court bar.
New York’s e-filing pilot program began in 1999 in civil parts of Supreme Court on a very limited basis.
“Over the ensuing years, as judges, attorneys, litigants and others having roles in the civil justice system have developed experience and comfort with e-filing, as the technology needed to e-file has improved markedly and as e-filing has become routine practice in the Federal Court system, the state has gradually expanded its e-filing pilot,” according to the legislation.
The benefits of e-filing include lower litigation costs and increased access to courts, particularly for solo practitioners, small firms and attorneys in rural areas.
Judge Lippman, in his February “State of the Judiciary” report, estimated universal e-filing will not only increase the efficiency and productivity of the state’s courts, but will save courts, litigants, attorneys and county clerks more than $300 million a year.
“The travel and expense of filing papers with the court and of serving an opposing party will become obsolete,” he wrote. “And, of course, the positive environmental impact of this transformation cannot be overstated.”
Mandatory e-filing of probate and administrative proceedings has been effective in Surrogate’s Court in Monroe, Erie and Chautauqua counties since March 1.
“Since 1999, more than 10,000 people have used the state’s pilot e-filing system, which has proven dependable and efficient,” New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James Jr. said in a release. “Its benefits include the ability to upload and serve court papers following summonses and complaints; increased security; and extensive savings of time and money.”
He said the state bar association supports mandatory e-filing in all state courts and the legislation moves the state a step closer to achieving that goal.
As of March 1, e-filing had been authorized on a mandatory basis for various civil matters in Supreme Court in five counties. Voluntary e-filing — with the consent of the parties — has been authorized for certain matters in the Supreme Court in 13 counties, in the Surrogate’s Court in 11 counties, in the Albany District of the Court of Claims and in the New York City Civil Court.
The measure signed by Cuomo expands e-filing to criminal and family courts in several counties. To ensure confidentiality, e-filed documents in those courts would not be available to the public online. Courts would use the existing New York State Courts Electronic Filing System.
E-filing was studied in 2007 by the state bar’s Task Force on Electronic Filing of Court Documents, which made recommendations to the state Office of Court Administration on how a mandatory and universal system could be implemented in New York.
In March, the association’s House of Delegates approved a report of the Committee on Court Structure and Operations that reiterated the state bar’s support of universal mandatory e-filing.
According to the report, e-filing would maximize the savings and benefits of eliminating paperwork. It also would simplify use for attorneys practicing in different courts across the state, allow appellate courts to review documents already on file, and reduce the number of documents that would need to be filed and printed. The 2012 report is available online at www.nysba.org/EFilingReport.
“OCA’s e-filing system has been implemented with great success in Supreme Court, Surrogate’s Court, the Court of Claims and New York City Civil Court,” said James M. Paulino, an associate at the Rochester office of Faraci Lange LLP. He chairs the Electronic Filing subcommittee of NYSBA’s Committee on Court Structure and Operations.
“It makes perfect sense to expand e-filing to criminal matters and Family Court proceedings,” Paulino said.