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Alameda County, Calif., attorney Donald Kirby daydreams about filing court papers from the porch of his Sierra County, Calif., house near the banks of the Yuba River. By the end of 2001, court officials say, his fantasy may come true. Alameda County Superior Court, like a growing number of courts around California and the nation, is preparing to launch a pilot project that will allow attorneys to file court documents via the World Wide Web. “The faster it comes, the better the court will become,” said Kirby, a partner at Kirby & Schultz. “Because the court is a paper jam.” The project stems from a statewide effort to make the court system more efficient by gradually easing out paper filings and replacing them with electronic ones. Although several Bay Area courtrooms have used electronic documents for complex litigation, many attorneys still file paper pleadings with the court, said Ceilo Keller, information technology director for the Alameda County Superior Court. By spring Kirby will begin filing some of his pleadings on the Web with the help of an Alameda-based company called @Court. Once the system is in place, Kirby can access @Court’s Web site and submit documents as PDF files. For a $10 fee — in addition to the court’s usual filing fee — the vendor will send the file to the superior court’s computer system. Kirby will get an e-mail confirmation when the document reaches the court or an e-mail if the transmission was unsuccessful. There are a few obstacles before electronic filing can begin, Keller said. Technical workers are building interfaces that will allow @Court and other vendors to send electronic filings directly to the case management system. Some of the county’s former municipal courts use different case management systems that must be switched to the DOMAIN case management system used by other superior court locations. “By next year we will be on the same system,” Keller said. Once the interfaces are complete it will take a little while to integrate the @Court technology with the DOMAIN system, said John Healy, who heads @Court. If the Alameda County experiment is successful, @Court will get the nod from the Administrative Office of the Courts to become a vendor for Santa Clara, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties, Healy said. Judge Judith Ford is already getting a taste of the future. She accesses the court case management system via an employee dial-up from her home and reads law and motion case files that have been electronically filed by attorneys. Keller said the court is working on making most case files accessible to the public through the Web, but that won’t be in place until February 2001. “E-filing, we believe, is the future for filing and maintaining records,” said Ford, who is on a court committee that will evaluate the pilot project. The court will eventually save money by decreasing the cost of storage as well as the time and expense of inputting paper documents into DOMAIN. Lawyers stand to save money, too, Healy said. Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, for example, can spend up to $125 to produce a document and pay for filing fees and a courier service to get a document to the courthouse, Healy said. That doesn’t include the other headaches: freeway gridlock, standing in line at the clerk’s office and the possibility of having an incorrect document rejected by the clerk after it’s handed over, said Kirby. “I don’t think any attorney cannot afford to get [electronic filing] as soonas possible,” he said.

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