Electronically filing court documents could get much less expensive if Gov. Rick Perry signs a bill that the Legislature sent to him on May 20.
Currently, courts use the e-filing system through Texas.gov, and lawyers pay an e-filing fee each time they e-file a document.
But if House Bill 2302 becomes law, it would create a per-case fee that would cover all e-filing in a case. The money — an estimated $17.72 million annually — would pay for the new e-filing system, called TexFile, which is coming online in September.
HB 2302 also authorizes a $2 fee for each e-file transaction (a litigant could file more than one document in a transaction) to reimburse local governments for costs of integrating with TexFile.
David Slayton, administrative director of the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA), says the bill would move the state away from a "toll road" model of e-filing, and it would reduce costs for lawyers and litigants.
"Overall, this pushes the ball forward on making the courts and the practice of law much more efficient and much cheaper," says Slayton.
Under HB 2302, litigants would pay the one-time fee when they file an action, appeal, counterclaim, cross-action, intervention, interpleader or third-party action. The fee would be $20 for civil actions in the Texas Supreme Court, intermediate appellate courts, district courts, county courts and probate courts. It would be $10 for civil actions in justice courts. Also, people convicted of crimes in district or county courts would pay a $5 court cost.
Indigent litigants and certain governmental filers would be exempt.
The money would go to a statewide e-filing system fund. The OCA could use the fund to support TexFile, provide grants to counties to implement TexFile and support other statewide technology projects.
According to the Legislative Budget Board’s Fiscal Note for HB 2302, the bill would raise $17.72 million each year. The estimate is based on OCA data on criminal convictions and civil cases.
HB 2302 also authorizes a local government or appellate court to charge a $2 fee for each e-filing transaction. Those entities could use the money to recover operating costs for accepting credit and debit card payments and interfacing with TexFile. The bill sunsets the fee in December 2019.
Karen Matkin, president of the Texas District Court Alliance, a trade association of district clerks, says that some counties must pay high costs to significantly upgrade their technology for TexFile.
"The revenue is not going to be there for the $2 to support or sustain the infrastructure cost that’s going to have to be put in place. And there is an expiration date in that bill, also," says Matkin, district clerk of McLennan County. "I assure you it’s going to take longer for us to recover the infrastructure costs than five years."
But Slayton says he thinks the $2 fee "will be sufficient."
"It may not be funding they can have on day one, but it provides them some mechanism to recover costs," he says.
E-filing under the bill would be much cheaper than under Texas.gov. The OCA created a comparison that shows that using Texas.gov to e-file 10 documents in a civil district court case could cost $135 to $315. It would cost just $20 to $40 if the bill passes. [See related chart, this page.]
Even if Perry vetoes HB 2302, e-filing costs will drop. Instead of Texas.gov’s per-document fee, TexFile was switching to a per-transaction fee that allows lawyers to file multiple documents in one transaction. [See "New E-Filing System Touted as Cutting Fees, Simplifying Search," Texas Lawyer, Nov. 19, 2012, page 4.]
Bill author Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and Senate sponsor Sen. Rodney West, D-Dallas, each didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.
|E-Filing Cost Comparison|
|Case Type||Current Fees Per Case||Proposed Fees Per Case*||Decrease in Cost||% Decrease In Fees|
|Case in Supreme Court or courts of appeals (estimated10 documents per case)||$135-$315||$20||$115-$295||85-94%|
|Civil case in district court (estimated 10 documents per case)||$135-$315||$20-$40||$95-$295||70-94%|
|Civil case in district court (assuming 50 documents per case)||$675-$1,575||$20-$120||$555-$1,555||82-99%|
|Contested probate case in county court (estimated 5 documents per case)||$67.50-$157.50||$20-$30||$37.50-$137.50||56-87%|
|Small claims case in justice court (estimated 5 documents per case)||$67.50-$157.50||$10-$20||$47.50-$147.50||70-94%|
|Criminal case in district court (estimated 5 documents per case) – nonindigent or nongovernment filer||$67.50-$157.50||$5-$15||$52.50-$152.50||78-97%|
|Criminal case in district court (estimated 5 documents per case) – indigent or government filer||$67.50-$157.50||$0||$67.50-$157.50||100%|
|Criminal case in JP court (estimated 5 documents per case)||$67.50-$157.50||$0||$67.50-$157.50||100%|
|*Maximum proposed fee per case assumes that the county optional fee of $2 per transaction is charged, one document per transaction, and that the user selects the free electronic filing service provider. Source: Texas Office of Court Administration.|
|Texas Lawyer, May 2013|