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Georgia’s Fulton County State Court has moved to electronic filing for a sizeable percentage of its cases, catching some lawyers by surprise but delighting others. Previously only large class actions or mass torts such as asbestos, mercury/lead and Phen-Fen cases had been designated to use e-filing procedures. But, under the terms of a July 1 order from Chief Judge Albert L. Thompson, medical and legal malpractice suits, suits with five or more plaintiffs or five or more defendants, and suits where the damages sought exceed $100,000 are included. Those types of cases now will be filed with LexisNexis’ Web-based service on the Internet. The court began experimenting with e-filing in 1999 with 300 asbestos cases. “The court has been eager to follow up on and expand that for quite some time,” said State Court Clerk Stefani R. Searcy. “Interest in e-filing has just grown enormously not only in Georgia, but nationwide.” LexisNexis information sheets on the project estimate that the order will affect nearly 60 percent of State Court’s cases, noting that in one three-day period, 350 cases were filed involving more than 8,000 plaintiffs. The change delighted some lawyers but caught others off guard, according to Chief Deputy Clerk Donna F. Daniels. “I had one [attorney] to start dancing in the office,” Daniels said, adding that the attorney had driven all the way from Birmingham to file in Fulton and was thrilled that he could now file on the Internet. The court, she added, gets filings from lawyers all over the South. But other lawyers who were surprised by the change have complained that they didn’t get notice, Daniels said. C. McLaurin Sitton of Decatur, Ga., said clerks wouldn’t accept his complaint for filing Tuesday. Instead, they gave him a copy of Thompson’s order and information about the e-filing system from LexisNexis. So he went back to his office to try to file. Sitton said Thursday that LexisNexis notified him that his case was filed, but the clerk’s office has told him otherwise. Language in Thompson’s order indicated that e-filing was mandatory in the designated categories of cases. The order says the expanded types of cases “shall” be filed electronically and later says the clerk “shall not accept or file any pleadings or instrument in paper form.” But Thompson said he didn’t intend for e-filing to be mandatory or for clerks to refuse paper filings. He said he’s aware not everyone, particularly pro se litigants, can use the Internet. The language in his order, he said, was boilerplate language from earlier orders designating certain mass torts for e-filing. “That language is no longer accurate,” he said, adding that he intends to remove it from the order. “We will always accept hard filing. The standard is a hard [copy] filing,” he said. Clerk Searcy said that her office always has and always will accept paper filings. “It is the people’s court, and we will not turn away any individual who chooses to file an action,” Searcy said. What clerks will do, however, is, provided that the case falls under the e-filing order, scan the complaint into the LexisNexis system for the filer. When attorneys file their cases with the LexisNexis system, the clerk’s office will get e-mail notification about the cases. Clerks then will total the cost of the new filing, give the complaint a case number and assign it to a judge. LexisNexis then will e-mail the filing attorney that information. The lawyer then can print out a copy of the complaint as well as a summons from the Internet and mail it to the marshal’s office for service. When both sides are participating in e-filing, motions and briefs can be served via the Internet. “I’m sold on it,” said Wayne Fuller, docket clerk supervisor in the clerk’s office. “It’s going to make my life a lot easier and a lot of law firms’ lives easier.” Sitton said he agrees that in the long run, e-filing is the way to go. “I’ve got no problem with [using e-filing] in these cases,” he said, “except that there needed to be a trial period. I consider myself somewhat technologically savvy, and I had questions.” Thompson said he didn’t notify the bar about the change, adding that may have been an oversight. However, Searcy said many local law firms received notices from LexisNexis about the new procedure, along with offers of free training. Chatham County State Court in Savannah has been offering e-filing since the beginning of 2000. The court’s clerk, Carlton W. Blair Jr., called it “point, click and sue.” E-filing is primarily used in his court, Blair said, by the large collection companies who file hundreds of cases involving delinquent credit cards or accounts. Those companies, he said, file cases electronically “40 or 50 at a clip.” Some lawyers work near the courthouse and don’t mind filing in person, he said. E-filing has “limited uses in our environment. I can see it would be very, very convenient in Atlanta,” he added. U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Atlanta began a pilot e-filing program in 1997 that allowed a few consumer bankruptcy practitioners to file cases by computer. The increased efficiency led the court to explore ways to expand the system’s use among bankruptcy lawyers. A committee of attorneys last year concluded that the way to promote the use of e-filing was to make it mandatory. The Bankruptcy Court judges have not yet decided whether to follow that recommendation.

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