Those of us whose job it is to match the growing call for Court services and the day-to-day needs of our justice system, on the one hand, with dwindling revenues and every-shrinking resources on the other, must always be on the lookout for newer, less costly, and more efficient ways to do the People’s business. In recent years many important advances in this area have come through improvements in information technology, including faster computers, greater connectivity, and of course the Internet.
Innovations Already in Place
During my tenure as Chief Judge I have had the unique opportunity to initiate several programs designed to move our system into the 21st century through innovations such as:
§ Electronic voice recording, which allows a single court reporter to cover 4 courtrooms at once and still produce excellent verbatim transcripts;
§ Internet legal research sites, which our Judges use regularly to write their opinions and stay on top of changes in the law;
§ Video conferencing, which links Courtroom 2002 with the County Jail for bond hearings; and
§ DuPage Unified Court System (DUCS), the state of the art case imaging and retrieval system developed in collaboration with I.B.M.
As a result we already enjoy a well-earned reputation for technical innovation and public service. Electronic filing of Court documents represents the next logical step in our journey.
e-Filing: the Final Frontier?
Our Circuit has been designated by the Supreme Court above all other potential sites in Illinois as ground-zero for the implementation of electronic filing. The Court and Circuit Clerk received permission in 2002 to explore the implementation of e-filing in Law and Arbitration cases, and the 18th Judicial Circuit has been fully operational since November 15, 2004.2 We believe that this innovation will revolutionize the practice of law not just here in our County but eventually throughout our State.
The Essential Question: Build v. Buy
Of course e-filing is not a new concept; other State Courts have embraced it, the Federal Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois has mandated it, and the District Court will have expanded its use to all cases by the end of the year. However, there is a significant difference in how the process is being pursued here: one that we believe will make our system more user-friendly and enable even faster implementation than at the Federal level. Specifically, while the Federal e-filing program was developed internally, we opted to work with commercial venders to acquire a comprehensive, pre-tested system that could be put into operation right away. We believe we have succeeded. In fact, as early as 2001 we met with a leading vendor to gain a general understanding of how e-filing worked. Through continued research we came to realize that commercial e-filing software was fully compatible with DUCS, and saw how much more efficient it was for the Clerk to receive digital documents in the first instance rather than receiving paper and spending time and resources digitizing those documents later. This formed our jumping-off point, and we have been live for nearly a year.
Serving the Public by Serving Litigators
Of course we never lost sight of the fact that the real beneficiaries of the e-filing program are not the Clerks or the Judges, but the Attorneys and their Clients. The benefits of the system are legion and include the following:
§ Being able to file and review Court documents from one’s home or office at any time.
§ Being able to serve and exchange discovery with other Counsel that are on the system.
§ Filing fees and costs are advanced by the vendor, which provides an itemized bill each month.
§ Filing a pleading or noticing up a motion is no more difficult than sending e-mail: filings are effective immediately or as soon as the Clerk’s office opens.
§ To encourage the use of their systems, vendors are providing free membership, charging only for filings and notices to other parties.
Advice, Consent, Development
At each step of the development of the e-filing program, the Court and Clerk have asked for and received input from practicing Attorneys, litigants, and Court personnel. As a result we have developed Local Rules based on what those users jointly recognize as the system’s most important features. Even after initial implementation we continue to make adjustments as suggested by our lawyers’ committee, such as permitting any party to bring a law or arbitration case into the e-filing system at any stage of the proceedings – a departure from the way the process was originally envisioned.
Current Use and Future Prospects
Unfortunately, despite all of our efforts and the inherent advantages of e-filing, the Circuit Court of DuPage County has less than 30 cases in the system right now. Repeated appearances at Bar functions and other gatherings, at which the Clerk and I explain and extol the virtues of this new way of doing things, have not been sufficient to overcome the inertia of past practices. And yet we know e-filing is in the Court’s future for most, if not all, cases, that the change will be inevitable, and that the result will be a benefit to everyone. What we don’t know is when e-filing will get the recognition it deserves or when its adoption will gain momentum. In short, while the Court, the public, and the Attorneys are all moving in the right direction, universal e-filing cannot come too soon for those of us familiar with its advantages.
Conclusions: Getting a Head Start on the Future
Vendors remain available to provide training in Attorneys’ offices and have begun offering marketing incentives to make membership even more attractive. On behalf of the Court I urge all Attorneys to call the Clerk’s office, learn about the pilot program, and get the name, phone number, and website address of each vendor. Take the training and use the program just once. See if this program, created by Attorneys for Attorneys - works as well as I claim, and join us in encouraging its growth. I am sure you will become an avid supporter, just as I did, and will join me in wondering why it took this long for your colleagues to adopt this excellent system.
1 With editorial input from Mazyar M. Hedayat, Esq.
2 If the Small Claims limits are raised to $7,500, or $10,000 as is being discussed, it may make sense to include those cases in the program alongside Law and Arbitration cases. Armed with the experience and "tweaking" that the more active use of the system will provide, can Domestic Relations cases be far behind?
The Honorable Robert K. Kilander is the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of the 18th Judicial Circuit, DuPage County, Illinois, and an avid booster of e-filing.