(Modella – Fotolia)
Less than two years after the state judiciary was given the authority to mandate e-filing for a wide swath of courts and cases, court administrators want additional authority that, in the words of a report released Friday, will “carry us further.”
The Office of Court Administration, in its annual report on the state of e-filing, wants lawmakers to lift a prohibition requiring the chief administrative judge to get legislative approval before ordering e-filing in matrimonial matters. Also, the OCA wants to eliminate restrictions on Appellate Division e-filing and modify some sunset provisions in current law.
The current report does not commit the courts to mandatory matrimonial e-filing in any particular location or under any particular timetable. But it says that “the chief administrative judge is in the best position to judge when and how to proceed in this area.”
Since August 2015, the chief administrative judge has been legally authorized to direct lawyers to file documents electronically. The courts still must consult with county clerks, the organized bar, legal service providers and unaffiliated attorneys who practice in the area at issue.
However, there are exceptions including CPLR 70 and 78 matters, Mental Hygiene and Election Law matters, certain foreclosure and consumer credit matters and matrimonial actions.
According to the report, 11 counties already have consensual e-filing of matrimonial cases. Last year, 2,197 matrimonial cases were filed electronically out of 57,212 total filed statewide.
The report says that e-filing of matrimonial cases has worked well, and administrators have no reason to believe this experience won’t be repeated when e-filing becomes mandatory.
OCA executive director Ronald Younkins said the introduction of e-filing has accelerated since August 2015, when the e-filing law took effect. Courts in 14 counties have started using e-filing for the first time—five in mandatory programs. Another 14 have added new proceedings to their mandatory programs. At the same time, he said, requests to opt out of the system have been declining.
The OCA estimates that all Supreme Court Civil and Surrogate courts will convert to e-filing in three years. Meanwhile, court administrators are preparing the move into Family and Criminal courts.
“We continue to make encouraging progress across many fronts, and that, in short we are moving increasingly” toward a digital court system, according to the report.
The report estimated that from the introduction of e-filing in 1999 through March 2017, nearly 1.4 million cases have been emailed with a total of about 14.4 million documents. The OCA estimated in 2011 that each document filed electronically saves government and private entities $40.
The e-filing system has 85,906 registered users. Pro se litigants are not required to use the system, but 5,684 unrepresented persons have nevertheless filed 54,508 documents.
Assessments of e-filing quoted in the report are generally complimentary. If anything, the commentators urge the courts to move faster. But one judicial preference continues to cause problems—the requirement that hard copies of e-filed documents be filed as “courtesy copies.”
The report notes that administrators have been urging judges to go paperless and is pursuing various initiatives to make that more attractive and beneficial in their daily work.
“As judges become more familiar with e-filing, they come to better understand its capacity and increasingly to recognize that review of e-filed documents online not only brings efficiencies to counsel and the county clerk or clerk’s office, but also to the judge and the judge’s staff,” the report stated.