Supreme Court Holds Hearing on Statewide eFiling and Document Access System

by Honorable Rebecca Simmons, Chair JCIT and 4th Court of Appeals Justice

Honorable Rebecca Simmons, Fourth Court of AppealsFrom the early days of the CourtLink system in Montgomery and Jefferson County to the many various and disparate fax systems, to the more recently implemented statewide portal system through Texas.gov, courts across Texas have been slowly implementing eFiling on a county by county basis for many years. Over fifty counties now use the statewide system reaching more than 100 jurisdictions. Today, e-Filing mandates are in place for the Texas Supreme Court, six Harris County District courts, the Travis District courts, and for certain case types in Montgomery and Jefferson counties. However, in the last legislative session, no funding was appropriated for the courts to implement a new statewide e-Filing system or centralized system to access court documents.

The Supreme Court, through the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, has closely monitored the adoption, use, costs, benefits, and effectiveness of e-Filing in Texas. To better understand the issues facing Texas, the Texas Supreme Court signed an order on October 18, 2011, setting a hearing on statewide e-Filing to gather input from key stakeholders. The hearing was held on December 8, 2011 at the Supreme Court of Texas Courtroom.

The purpose of the hearing was “to assist the Court in understanding the benefits and drawbacks of a uniform statewide e-Filing system and evaluating the type of e-Filing and document access system that may be most practical, beneficial, and cost-efficient.”

The Court invited several stakeholders with knowledge and experience in e-Filing – including judges, District clerks, and representatives from the vendor community – to weigh in on the advantages and disadvantages surrounding the implementation of a uniform statewide e-Filing system and a centralized statewide document access system. The following individuals were invited to share their viewpoints on these issues:

  • Honorable Rebecca Simmons, Chair, JCIT, and  4th Court of Appeals Justice
  • Honorable Mike Engelhart, Judge, 151st District Court, Harris County
  • Honorable Chris Daniel, District Clerk, Harris County
  • Honorable Gary Fitzsimmons, District Clerk, Dallas County
  • Honorable Amalia Rodriquez-Mendoza, District Clerk, Travis County
  • Honorable Sheri Woodfin, District Clerk, Tom Green County
  • Erin Hutchins, Director of Portal Operations, NIC
  • Tammy Carter, General Manager, CaseFileXpress
  • Dennis Van Metre, Chief Technology Officer, Vinson & Elkins

The speakers provided considerable insights, including when and if e-Filing should be mandated. The Court was very attentive and asked a number of questions.  Justice Paul Green, liaison to the JCIT, stated that, recognizing that there is a general willingness among stakeholders to help facilitate the transition, the next steps are to eliminate paper altogether and to a go fully electronic system.

“Given the inevitability of a paperless court system, we must be realistic that it’s going to happen,” Justice Green stated. “To date, no standard protocol has been established for statewide use. To make it work effectively there has to be an overall standard.” Justice Nathan Hecht noted that the court would consider these issues in the days ahead.

The Court appears focused on the future of e-Filing in Texas, as well as if and how a centralized document system may be established to permit parties, the public and practicing attorneys to access court documents via a centralized service once documents have been e-Filed.

It is anticipated that the Office of Court Administration will release a Request for Proposal this year to solicit proposals for the next generation system in Texas.  The current e-Filing portal contract with the Texas Department of Information Resources expires in August 2012.

Additional written comments may be submitted to Blake Hawthorne, Clerk of the Court, P.O. Box 12248, Austin, TX 78711.

St Mary’s University School of Law provides webcasts of Oral Arguments and meetings on their website.  To view the Supreme Court Hearing from December 8, 2011 click on the following:

http://stmarytxlaw.mediasite.com/mediasite/SilverlightPlayer/Default.aspx?peid=4fedc17e0790498ca04bb3d9199e27ad1d.

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