On Wednesday, I attended a two-hour training hosted by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) in Frankfort, Kentucky. This training will be required for all attorneys to use the new e-filing system as it is implemented statewide before the end of 2015.
(For a list of training dates/sites and to register, go here: http://kyefiling.eventbrite.com)
Here are the main points I took away from the session:
- E-filing + CourtNet 2.0. Once you go through the training, you will see why attorneys are now having to pay a monthly fee to access cases through CourtNet 2.0 (and why that service came ahead of the e-filing project). While there is no additional monthly charge for e-filing (and there is an option for a free e-filer account with no CourtNet 2.0 access to other cases in which you are not an e-filer), the Kentucky system has a similar layout to the new case filing system and attorneys will use the services hand-in-hand.
- Filing new cases just got easier. In the e-filing system, there are two main options: file a subsequent pleading (i.e. motion in a case that is already active) or file a new case. The system appears to streamline the process of digitizing the filing of a new action, as all that may be required is the uploading of the complaint and checking a box for the method of service. After entering payment information (which would include the appropriate service fees along with a convenience fee of what appears at this time to be $6.00), the clerk's office is notified for the summons to be generated and service to be effectuated.
- Better than ECF/Pacer? Federal courts have been using e-filing for years and years. The Kentucky version, however, looks much more modern, and allows you to return to modify a pending filing as opposed to having to complete everything in one session. So you can start a filing, go to lunch, and come back and finish it that afternoon.
- Get used to the term "Envelope". Everything you do in the online filing system is structured around the concept of an Envelope. So if you are preparing to file a motion, and want to add exhibits, the workflow you start will be given an Envelope # which creates the "package" that is eventually sent to the court and other parties.
- Not mandatory (yet). While the training is required to e-file, the project is still technically in a pilot phase and even by the end of 2015 you will not have to file documents electronically. Furthermore, pro se litigants are not eligible at this time to file electronically and particularly in courts where people represent themselves (forcible detainer, small claims, family court, etc.), it appears paper filing will still be around for some time.
- What's with Word? One of the biggest caveats that will likely cause problems for users is a very technical one. In the system, a requirement exists to submit a Word version of a proposed order in addition to a PDF version. The newest version of the Word document format (.docx), however, is not accepted. Therefore, lawyers and their staff will have to save documents in the old ".doc" format (which was used in Word 1997-2003) to be compatible with the e-filing system.
- Courtesy notices to clients. One nice feature is the ability to send a blind copy of a document being filed through the system to a client or other third party. This should help attorneys without case management software which may otherwise automate this process to keep their clients updated on the status of case filings without much effort.
- Circuit Clerks. After you file a document electronically, it will then be sent to the clerk's office for processing. Somewhat similar to federal court, the clerk's can make minor adjustments (typographical errors, correct the type of filing if it was entered incorrectly, etc.), or the clerk can respond with an electronic notice about corrective steps for the filer to take before the document will be processed. (And in a somewhat ironic twist in this apparent systematic effort to go paperless, all documents that are e-filed will still be printed out by the clerk's office on the backend for the foreseeable future.)
- Read the rules. The Kentucky Supreme Court has entered an Order which controls how this new process will work, and as always that Order controls over anything else that you may hear or read (including this post), so go grab the PDF: http://courts.ky.gov/courts/supreme/Rules_Procedures/201409.pdf
- Jurisdiction rules don't change. And finally, remember that technical glitches in the system will not excuse late filings (and documents are deemed "filed" as of the date the system accepts them, not when the clerk processes them). So if you wait until 11:58pm on the day that your Rule 59 motion is due, and the electronic filing system is down for maintenance or just down, then don't expect special treatment by the Court. For this reason, we will all probably still be clocking and dropping paper at the courthouse for years to come.