The Federal courts have had electronic filing for many years, both in the district courts and the bankruptcy courts. Typically, this is initiated by the attorney opening an account with the court, which gives the attorney the ability to scan and upload litigation documents on line instead of having to mail the documents to the courthouse. Also, rather than having to write a check to the court, your online account is automatically charged. With the Federal courts, typically the account is funded through the attorney’s credit card. The process makes the attorney’s work a little easier for sure. Also, the attorney receives electronic notice whenever a document is filed in the case.
The New Jersey state court system recently rolled out its own “eCourts” program. This has engendered a great deal of confusion. Not all cases can be electronically filed. Certain categories of lawsuits still need to be filed on paper through the mail. For those cases, filing fees need to be paid by check.
The various court clerks are unclear about the rules. For example, motions relating to foreign judgments cannot be filed through eCourts. However, I had two counties wrongly return motions in foreign judgment cases, claiming that I had to efile the motions. I then had to spend time finding and speaking to supervisors in order to be able to successfully resubmit the motions through the mail.
Another annoyance is the requirement that an attorney filing a motion must mail a courtesy copy to the motion judge. When eCourts was initially proposed, it promised that mailing of papers would be eliminated by electronic filing. That is clearly not the case. Also, the court does not notify the attorney to advise which judge has been assigned to handle the motion. Therefore it becomes difficult to try to send a courtesy copy of the motion as required. The court clerks have no answer for these and many other issues.
For New Jersey state court efiling, the attorney must periodically transfer funds to the account to cover filing fees. There is no automatic funding from a checking account or credit card. It is a nuisance when an attorney is filing a motion or complaint, only to find that his account balance is below the minimum required amount and that he needs to log into another system in order to transfer funds to his account, and then return to the filing of his documents.
Another hindrance is the small capacity of the New Jersey state electronic filing systems. For large filings such as summary judgment motions, the documents need to be scanned and uploaded in ten or more subparts, which is a waste of the attorney’s time. Clearly this system was underengineered.
Also, electronic notice of document filing is presently hit or miss. Sometimes we are notified and sometimes not. The cause is unclear.
Finally, there is no designed way for the attorneys who use the system to provide feedback to the state court system on needed modifications. We will likely continue to struggle through the baby steps of electronic filing in New Jersey and hopefully improvements will follow.