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    Mandatory E-filing Now in 23 Counties

    Since the circuit court e-filing rule became effective on July 1, 2016, 23 counties began mandatory e-filing for civil, small claims, family, and paternity cases. Mandatory criminal e-filing begins March 1.

    Marcia L. Vandercook

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    The Wisconsin Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) are on schedule to roll out mandatory e-filing to all 72 Wisconsin counties by the target date of December 2017, according to Jean Bousquet, chief information officer for the Wisconsin Court System.

    “We have been pleased with how smoothly the county conversions have gone,” Bousquet reported. “We knew that the clerks’ offices were looking forward to this change. We have been happy to find that most law offices and agencies are receptive to the idea as well.”

    Thirteen more counties are scheduled to begin mandatory e-filing in the next two months. A number of larger counties have already been added, including La Crosse, Waukesha, Marathon, and Racine, with Winnebago and Eau Claire to follow in early 2017. Milwaukee and Dane counties are not yet scheduled. (See the accompanying sidebar, “Upcoming E-filing Implementations.”)

    When a county is scheduled to go mandatory, a team of CCAP staff arrive and embed themselves in the county for several days before the launch date to get everyone in the county ready. They offer hands-on training for judges, lawyers, agencies, and staff. The team remains for several days after the launch to troubleshoot and make sure everything is operating smoothly.

    For notifications about when new counties are scheduled to go mandatory, lawyers and other filers can subscribe to the e-filing notification service on the right side of the circuit court e-filing home page or follow @CCAP_Wisconsin on Twitter.

    Things to Know About the New E-filing Rule

    • E-filing is required for lawyers and for agents filing 10 or more small-claims actions in a county per year. Self-represented litigants are allowed to e-file but are not required to do so.

    • Documents e-filed by 11:59 p.m. on the day they are due are considered filed that day. Non e-filing parties may file by fax until 11:59 p.m. Local fax rules restricting the number of pages still apply.

    • Parties must submit copies of documents, not originals, even when filing on paper.

    • The small-claims summons and complaint may be verified without a notary.

    • Lawyers may authorize staff members to submit pleadings to the e-filing system on the lawyer’s behalf and to apply the lawyer’s electronic signature. The lawyer is responsible for all documents e-filed by staff members.

    Mandatory Criminal E-filing Begins March 1; Probate to Follow

    Each county has the option of starting voluntary e-filing for criminal cases at the same time it begins mandatory e-filing for civil and family cases. So far, 15 counties have enabled voluntary e-filing for felonies, misdemeanors, traffic, state forfeitures, and local ordinance violations.

    Marcia VandercookMarcia Vandercook, Berkeley 1978, is circuit court legal advisor and staff to the committees that proposed the e-filing rule.

    CCAP has been coordinating with Wisconsin’s District Attorney Information Technology (DA IT) program and the State Public Defender’s Office (SPD) to work out issues specific to criminal proceedings. “E-filing for district attorneys is handled through the DA’s existing PROTECT software, so we have been working with DA IT to make sure all the data is flowing smoothly,” said Bousquet. The SPD uses the regular e-filing website and has dedicated staff working on procedures, forms, and training for staff members and SPD-appointed counsel.

    Criminal e-filing will become mandatory on March 1, 2017, for all counties where mandatory civil and family e-filing have already been implemented. As new counties are added, criminal e-filing will become mandatory at the same time as civil and family e-filing.

    Next in the implementation schedule are formal and informal probate cases. These case types are currently being offered in Ozaukee and Ashland counties.

    Mary Lou Mueller, Ozaukee County clerk of circuit court and register in probate, volunteered her county to serve as the pilot for voluntary probate e-filing. She said, “Probate e-filing has delivered the same value-added benefits as we’ve experienced with the other case types. The few limited issues we’ve found during the pilot will be resolved shortly. E-filing has produced dramatic workflow and case management improvements that have decreased the opportunity for human error in the clerk’s office. I am looking forward to the full complement of all e-filing case types.”

    Work on the development for guardianship and mental health e-filing is under way, but no dates have been set for rolling them out on either a voluntary or mandatory basis. Juvenile cases will be the last to come, probably in 2018.

    User Requests Prompt New Features

    According to Chief Information Officer Jean Bousquet, “At this point we have worked out many of the bigger issues with civil and family e-filing and can now turn our attention to user requests, upgrades, and minor bug fixes. We are receiving great suggestions from the users and are pleased to be able to implement them.”

    CCAP has begun sending release notes to e-filing users to update them on changes to the system, new features, and upcoming enhancements. The release notes are posted on the e-filing website, along with video tutorials, written user guides, and frequently asked questions, at www.wicourts.gov/efile.

    Recent Enhancements

    • The e-filing website has been streamlined with fewer screens for each submission. For example, e-filers can upload a complaint or petition together with additional documents. Lawyers can submit a Notice of Retainer/Appearance and opt into a case at the same time.

    • The e-filing site includes a new Notifications page that displays all communication for documents filed on a case by parties and the court. E-filers can set their email preference and choose whether they would like to receive emails from the e-filing system or rely solely on the Notifications screen.

    • E-filers have the option to pay for filing fees using a court debit account. A law firm can deposit money with the clerk of circuit court and use the money to pay for filing fees through the website. Information on setting up an account is found under “user guides and training” on the e-filing website.

    • A party template feature has been added to eliminate the need to type party information, such as name, address, and phone number, every time a case is filed for the same party.

    • Coming soon, the opt-in process will allow attorneys to opt in for multiple parties on a case at the same time. The process of withdrawing from a case will also be enhanced.

    Streamlining Proposed Orders

    Generally, e-filers must submit proposed orders in a Word editable (.docx) format so the court can edit the proposed order or fill in checkboxes before signing. Proposed orders in Word format must omit the signature block for the court official, to leave space for the official’s electronic signature.

    However, there are many documents where court officials rarely make a change to the proposed order. Common examples include stipulations and orders, motions and orders appointing counsel, motions and orders for dismissal of small-claims cases, and bench warrants. CCAP now offers the ability to submit such proposed orders in PDF format.

    If the e-filer anticipates based on experience that the court is not likely to edit an order, the e-filer may submit the order in PDF format. This makes it possible to submit the motion and order as a single document, or to gather signatures on a stipulation and then have the judge sign it. The e-filing technical requirements provide that PDF documents must include a standard signature block template that can be downloaded from the e-filing website. CCAP release notesoffer a more in-depth description of this update.

    Early 2017 E-filing Implementations

    The following counties are slated to implement mandatory e-filing in early 2017.

    County Implementation Date
    Jackson Jan. 3
    Iowa Jan. 9
    Richland Jan. 9
    Trempealeau Jan. 9
    Green Lake Jan. 17
    Walworth Jan. 17
    Marquette Feb. 1
    Waushara Feb. 1
    Winnebago Feb. 1
    Calumet Feb. 15
    Eau Claire Feb. 15
    Portage Feb. 15
    Bayfield March 1
    Manitowoc March 1
    Washington March 1

    Clarifying Garnishment E-filing Procedures

    As a general rule, the e-filing system notifies all the e-filing parties whenever new activity occurs in a case. However, notification for earnings garnishments, non-earnings garnishments, and executions will be handled differently, according to Bousquet.

    When a creditor initiates a garnishment action to collect the judgment in an existing court case, the paper practice has been to include the garnishment action under the same case number. E-filers should continue this practice.

    For earnings garnishments, the creditor files an earnings garnishment notice (form CV-421), and the clerk issues two earnings garnishments (form CV-422) stamped with the court seal. The creditor must serve the debtor and the garnishee as described in Wis. Stat. section 812.35.

    To accommodate the statutory requirements, the e-filing system will not serve the garnishment on the debtor even if the debtor has opted to e-file. The earnings garnishment notice will be entered in the public court record. However, the documents will not be sent electronically to the debtor, and the debtor will not see the entry in the debtor’s My Cases portal. The creditor is responsible for service as provided by statute.

    Non-earnings garnishments are handled in similar fashion, due to the provisions of Wis. Stat. sections 812.01- .07. A creditor who files a non-earnings garnishment summons and complaint (form CV-301 or SC-301) will see a message in the e-filing system that “service is the responsibility of the party filing the garnishment.” The non-earnings garnishment will be entered in the public court record, but notice will not be sent to the debtor, and the debtor will not see the entry in the My Cases portal.

    Both earnings and non-earnings garnishments are technically new actions and require payment of a new filing fee. See Wis. Stat. §§ 812.01(2)(a), 812.35(2). For that reason, the $20 e-filing fee is also applied to each garnishment.

    Executions are not available through the e-filing system at this time. A person who requests an execution (form GF-115) will see a message to contact the clerk of circuit court.

    The e-filing website includes a garnishment user guide with detailed descriptions and screen shots describing the garnishment e-filing process. The ability to docket and satisfy judgments is also available through the e-filing system.