By Nanette Forbes,
TAC Legislative Staff
In a hearing on e-filing, the Supreme Court of Texas heard from Justice Rebecca Simmons, chair of the Justice Committee of Information Technology, (JCIT) and various stakeholders including a district judge, district clerks and vendors that have an interest in what e-filing is and can become for the state of Texas.
The Dec. 8 hearing embarked on the sensitive subject of Mandating E-Filing for all pleadings in Texas district and county courts. The idea is to create paperless courts, similar to federal courts.
The court heard testimony on the benefits of adopting a state-wide uniform e-filing system to assist users, including convenience and cost savings. The court also heard testimony regarding the benefits of a statewide PACER-type system, which would allow access to court documents in a centralized service once they are e-filed, regardless of where the documents were e-filed.
Testimony by representatives from some larger counties suggested that those testifying seemed ready, willing and in favor of mandatory e-filing to assist in efforts to move toward paperless courts.
Harris County is by far the largest user of e-filing, but it voiced extensive dissatisfaction with NIC, the current e-filing provider. The county would like to move forward with implementation of its own e-filing system.
Mid-sized to smaller counties stated the most difficult aspect of implementing e-filing is that the mandate is unfunded. From case management systems that do not provide e-filing interface capabilities to a lack of county technology staff to assist in implementing an e-filing system, the cost factor would outweigh any direct benefit from those counties attempting a paperless court.
In conclusion, the vendor NIC who provides Texas.gov and the e-filing system for Texas was forthcoming regarding the matter of being able to provide service for the entire state. The vendor representative stated that old equipment and programs would prevent the company from being able to provide the service.
If the court mandated e-filing, the company would have to start over, creating a more universal e-filing system that could handle the workload. The NIC contract will be ending soon and will need to be renewed, or Texas may look for another company to provide e-filing services.
No decision was made in the information gathering hearing. The Supreme Court report on the hearing has yet to be issued.
County and district courts across Texas have worked to implement e-filing since its inception in the early 2000s. Approximately 50 counties are now e-filing in their county and/or district courts.