We are pleased to announce that the Missouri judiciary again is forging ahead to improve services to its users. Ten years ago, we were working to get our courts onto a single case management system; now we are now moving from paper-only filing fully into the age of electronics. Specifically, the Missouri judiciary is working on a pilot system that will enable attorneys to file case documents electronically in the courts. Electronic filing has been a long-term goal of the Missouri Court Automation Committee (MCA) since its inception in the late 1990s. The MCA has been working to establish a statewide case management system, a document management system, a support network for the approximately 5,000 court workers who use these systems, as well as Case.net, the statewide court public access portal. When the last state court joined the statewide case management system in 2008, the only remaining piece to the puzzle of creating a fully electronic court system was the development an electronic filing system.
The electronic filing
system has been coined “the Missouri eFiling System” and
will be available in the Supreme Court of Missouri and the 11th
Judicial Circuit (St. Charles County). For attorneys filing in the Supreme Court, please click here. For attorneys filing in the 11th Judicial Circuit, please click here.
Attorneys will be able to file documents electronically in the pilot courts for FREE during pilot testing. Attorneys also will be able to view electronic documents for FREE in all courts using the document management system during the pilot. In addition, attorneys will be able to serve other registered users electronically and receive notices from the system. It is important to emphasize that attorneys from any court – not just one of the pilot courts – will be able to see any public document that either has been scanned into the state document management system by a local court or has been filed electronically by an attorney. Scanning into the document management system is done locally – some courts have begun this process, but the limited availability of the funds and clerical time necessary to perform the scanning means that many documents are not available on the system.
The Missouri eFiling System pilot is considered a trial period that will help the judiciary gather information to determine how best to support the Missouri eFiling System and document management systems statewide, including calculating necessary staff time, computer equipment and hardware, further programming enhancements, network fiber costs, and electronic document storage costs. In future years, these investments may generate savings to both the court system and the state as a whole, but some initial investment very likely will be required to deploy the system beyond the pilot. Although Missouri judiciary staff have attempted to estimate future costs (see below), the pilot will provide great assistance in determining our needs and costs.
As mentioned above, in addition to filing documents electronically, the Missouri eFiling System will enable licensed Missouri attorneys in good standing who are registered on the Missouri eFiling System to see pleadings that are electronically available in the court’s case management system. To begin using the Missouri eFiling System, a licensed attorney will need to create an account by going to www.courts.mo.gov/myaccount.
Electronic Filing Rules
To allow documents to be filed electronically, new rules have been established to govern the filing date and time, signatures and more. To review the rules associated with electronic filing, go to www.courts.mo.gov/efilingrules.
Future Cost Estimates
Based on research conducted in King County, Washington, and other courts that successfully have deployed electronic filing and electronic case management records, early estimates indicate that the startup costs necessary to deploy the complete, fully supported Missouri eFiling System statewide are $2 million to $3 million annually. Therefore, while the pilot will be free, the system will not likely be able to be deployed statewide without investing further financial resources, either from additional state general revenue, a surcharge, a viewing fee or other sources. While no one inside or outside the Missouri judiciary wants to charge either litigants or the public any more than is necessary, the reality is that the system at least initially will generate increased costs that cannot immediately be covered by any potential cost-savings achieved. The Missouri judiciary will continue to evaluate before further deployment of the Missouri eFiling System.
It is important to note that currently the courts receive a $7 fee from most case filings; this fee supports the judiciary’s current technology infrastructure (such as line charges, server expenses, and maintenance for software, equipment and hardware, sharing information with other state agencies, etc.). This fee generates approximately $4.8 million annually. While this may seem like a lot of money, when one considers the scope of support already undertaken by the Missouri judiciary for statewide court technology in addition to the fact that recent budget reductions have required the judiciary to freeze a minimum of $500,000 of these funds for each of the last three years, it is understandable that existing dollars cannot be used to support the Missouri eFiling System statewide.
As the chart below indicates, the state courts receive no money for technology other than the $7 mentioned above from court filing fees to offset their expenditures, and virtually all of the rest of the entire judiciary’s budget is dedicated to salaries for court personnel. (The chart below indicates costs for circuit civil cases; other case types will vary, but in all case types, the state courts only receive the $7 automation fee.)
In addition to withholding
$500,000 annually from court technology, the Missouri judiciary is
experiencing withholds at all levels. In fiscal 2011, which just ended June 30,
the courts reduced their budget by $5.4 million. For fiscal 2012, (which began
July 1), the courts are required to reduce expenditures by $5.6 million. These
reductions caused the courts to hold open or freeze hiring altogether for more
than 100 positions last year, in addition to impending layoffs of 67 juvenile detention
workers statewide. Therefore, it is essential that the courts continue to
research ways to improve service to the citizens of Missouri while also enabling their
strained workforce to do its job in the most professional and efficient way
possible. We believe the Missouri eFiling System is just
such an improvement.
By allowing attorneys to file and view documents from any computer with an Internet connection, both attorneys and clients will be better served, and our citizens as a whole will receive better services. In addition, our reduced clerical staff can spend less time chasing down paper files and more time reviewing filings for accuracy and ensuring data integrity. Attorneys will be able to file and view cases or documents seven days a week, excluding scheduled maintenance outages or when technical difficulties arise. As mentioned above, attorneys also will be able to serve other registered users electronically and receive notices from the system. Through electronic filing, attorneys should be able to reduce or eliminate their costs for printing and binding, postage, overnight delivery, and courier or other travel delivery costs. Studies in King County, Washington, and other courts using electronic filing all clearly indicate that once implemented, both attorneys and courts find e-filing extremely beneficial and have no desire to go back to a world without e-filing. The Missouri judiciary hopes that you will find this pilot valuable, that you will use the system, and that you will join us in supporting future development of this important project.