“E-filing is coming, whether we like it or not,” says Texas Supreme Court Justice Paul Green. He says he expects some “pushback” from lawyers because e-filing is different than the norm, but, “It’s a time of change. We don’t always ask for it, but it arrives on our doorstep.”
Starting in January 2014, the 14 courts of appeal and the district, county and statutory probate courts in the most populous counties will only accept e-filings from lawyers in civil cases, says the Supreme Court’s Dec. 11 Order Requiring Electronic Filing in Certain Courts.
The order doesn’t apply to criminal-case filings.
The mandate will become effective in the largest counties first, and other counties will follow a schedule based on population, until all counties mandate e-filing by July 2016.
“Ultimately, when all this is in place, we will have a uniform system with standards that apply to documents filed in any kind of court. It will be an integrated system, so one court in one part of the state can send documents to another court in another part of the state electronically,” says Green, the court’s liaison to the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, which recommended the e-filing mandate.
Because the high court mandated e-filing, TexFile’s developer and operator, Tyler Technologies Inc., will decrease fees to their lowest level of $3.50 per transaction for e-filing and e-service, says David Slayton, administrative director of the Texas Office of Court Administration. Filers must still pay a fee for an electronic filing service provider to prepare a document for e-filing.
But e-filings will be free for government and indigent filers, and lawyers can also file free by visiting a court clerk’s office that has a TexFile computer station.
Counties will not be able to offer any alternative means of e-filing, such as Harris County’s free fax filing, “except in the event of an emergency,” says the high court’s order.
Green says that part of the order impacts the Harris, Montgomery and Jefferson counties, which offer alternative methods.
Slayton explains that all the state’s e-filings must go through TexFile because as the volume of e-filings increases, the cost will decrease for everyone. Harris County has the largest volume of court filings.
Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniels says he is “OK” with giving up free fax filing once TexFile is “fully implemented.”
“It’s going to help save money across the state in the long run, especially here in Harris County,” Daniels says, adding, “It’s the paper that’s killing us. It’s not how we get there, through free fax or this other system; the point is becoming completely electronic.”
-- Angela Morris