January 15, 2015

Virtual Courthouses

In many courthouses across the country today, court records are filed electronically (“e-filed”), dockets and document management systems are paperless, and, consequently, more and more file rooms are being converted to courtrooms. This recent shift to a virtual courthouse is a result of budget cuts made during the last recession that forced courts to find ways to cut costs and work more efficiently, a recent Pew Charitable Trusts Stateline magazine article states.

All 50 states have some kind of e-filing project in their court systems, which was not the case a year ago.  Today, at least 24 states have implemented statewide e-filing for attorneys, according to the article, which cited data from the National Center for State Courts. 

The article describes different approaches states have taken to create a paperless court system.  For example:
  1. Wisconsin and Nebraska mandated e-filing statewide for all civil and criminal cases,
  2. the Texas Supreme Court mandated e-filing statewide for all civil cases on a rolling basis,
  3. Utah’s Judicial Council adopted a rule requiring all attorneys to file civil and criminal cases electronically, and
  4. Florida’s legislature mandated e-filing and the state Supreme Court set the standards.
The courts have funded the cost of these changes in a number of ways, including legislative appropriations, increased filing fees, and partnerships with public and private vendors.  The challenges that states face as they convert to a paperless court system depends on the system’s structure.  When the state directly funds and runs the system, it is easier to create one electronic system. On the other hand, it is harder to create such a system when each court is independent and funded by the county (decentralized court system), the article stated.  The article cites Texas, Utah, and Florida as successfully converting to a paperless court system.