Meet TexFile, the state’s new electronic filing system for court documents. Officials expect it to cut e-filing fees by 48 percent, provide one-stop searching for court documents from counties across the state and help counties start putting their court documents online if they haven’t already.
On Nov. 8, the Texas Office of Court Administration signed an agreement with Dallas-based Tyler Technologies Inc. for its Odyssey File and Serve system, which will replace the current statewide e-filing system at Texas.gov in September 2013.
“Potentially the greatest part of this is it reduces the cost so much,” says David Slayton, OCA administrative director, who announced the news Nov. 9 at a meeting of the Texas Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the Texas judiciary.
“Another very good achievement is it will be uniform throughout the state,” says Wallace Jefferson, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. “It will be much more user friendly to lawyers and the public and judges.”
Mark Schwartz, vice president of E-Solutions for Tyler Technologies, says the company understands the “critical nature” of ensuring parties get served, court clerks can easily accept or reject filings, and file-stamps are in the right place, among other things.
“We understand those issues very well,” says Schwartz, adding, “It’s where we come from. It’s what we’ve developed over the last decade.”
The e-filing process will look and feel to lawyers like it does now, but with newer technology behind the scenes. A lawyer who wants to file a petition can pay a $1 fee to prepare the document for e-filing through the company’s “no frills” e-filing service provider (EFSP). The lawyer also pays a $6 base fee to e-file the documents with the court and e-serve them on opposing parties. That $7 per-transaction fee is how Tyler Technologies recoups its development and operational costs.
Lawyers still can use more costly private EFSPs like ProDocs or CaseFileXpress, which also prepare documents for e-filing but provide a greater range of services, such as the ability to store and organize all the documents a person has e-filed.
Additional revenue will come from a document search and retrieval function: In Tyler Technologies’ Pricing Submission for Electronic Filing, its response to a request for offer from the OCA, the company proposed that seeing a list of search results would be free, but it would cost 50 cents per page to view and download court records. That would be in addition to any fee the court clerk charges. As statewide volume of pages viewed increases, that fee will would decrease to a low of 35 cents per page at the largest volume.*
But Slayton says the OCA and Tyler Technologies did not set the search and retrieval fee their final agreement and they are still negotiating the amount and whether the company will charge per page or for subscriptions. The OCA will coordinate directly with court clerks to set the document search and retrieval fee, Slayton says.
All counties will use TexFile for e-filing. Some counties that already have their own systems that give the public electronic access to court records can keep those systems. However, TexFile’s search function will be able to search through those counties’ records.
“It’s a good convenience to the public,” Slayton says.
Slayton says e-filers currently pay a per-document fee ranging from $13.50 to $31.50. But TexFile’s online portal will instead charge a per-transaction fee — people may file multiple documents in one transaction — ranging from $7 to $27, depending upon the EFSP and the options a filer chooses, he says.
However, anyone who visits participating court clerks’ offices will be able to use TexFile kiosks to file documents for free, Slayton said during the Nov. 9 judicial council meeting. Filings also will be free for government lawyers and district attorneys, indigent litigants and for courts that issue orders electronically.
The Fine Print
Tyler Technologies’ pricing submission lays out the details of its e-filing system.
The company based the e-filing fee on the statewide volume of transactions; as the number of transactions rises across the state, the base fee for each user drops. Filers would also pay EFSP fees.
For one e-filing transaction, a user will pay a base fee of $6 when there are less than one million transactions a year across the state. That base fee will drop to $3.50 when statewide yearly transactions reach six million, which is 100 percent of the system’s capacity. But that rise in transactions “will likely be unattainable in the absence of court rules mandating electronic filing,” says the pricing submission.
According to the Electronic Filing Agreement Between Tyler Technologies Inc. and the OCA, if the Texas Supreme Court requires mandatory e-filing in civil cases in county, district and appellate courts, the base fee would drop to the lowest amount within 30 days of the mandate.
“It was an extremely important provision to us,” says Slayton. He notes the Supreme Court held a public hearing in December 2011 to talk about the pros and cons of an e-filing mandate and the high court is still considering the question.
Schwartz supports mandatory e-filing and says he has seen states with programs that “kind of hobbled along” until they mandated e-filing.
“That’s where you’re going to get the most efficiency,” he says.
The e-file agreement contains another provision to reduce e-filing fees: If the Texas Legislature appropriates funds for an e-filing system, the OCA and Tyler Technologies would “negotiate in good faith” to decrease the fee.
At its Nov. 9 meeting, the Texas Judicial Council unanimously approved a resolution to ask lawmakers to create a fee in civil cases and a court cost in criminal cases and to appropriate the money to OCA to “provide for eFiling at no additional per transaction charge to litigants,” says the resolution.
Instead of a party paying fees to Tyler Technologies for e-filing, he or she would pay $5 to $15 per case, which would cover all e-filing. Courts would collect the per-case fee and send it to the state; the Legislature would appropriate the funds to the OCA, which would “write a check” to Tyler Technologies, Slayton says.
* The original version of this article misstated the pricing structure.