Jan. 21, 2015 – “We’re simply trying to implement a system that will allow us to do things electronically, rather than on paper,” says Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Koschnick of the petition to make e-filing of court documents mandatory in Wisconsin.
Representing the Committee of Chief Judges, Koschnick appeared before the State Bar Board of Governors last month to urge support for the petition, which was submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court last October and is scheduled for a public hearing in March.
“Much like email and paying bills online has become commonly accepted,” says Koschnick, “it’s very efficient to file court documents, to maintain records; it enhances secure storage.”
As a practical matter, very little would change for law firms filing a pleading if the petition is approved. “Instead of printing it out, signing it, and putting a stamp on it – or driving it to the courthouse – you will be able to hit ‘send’ and file it over the Internet.”
“You’re going to save on postage, personnel costs for driving pleadings to the courthouse, and records retention is enhanced significantly – not only as to ease of access and retrieval, but also to security.”
Given these efficiencies, “we feel that e-filing is inevitable,” says Koschnick.
Mandatory E-filing Petition
As proposed, the petition requires that any case in Wisconsin be filed electronically. Lawyers would have to register as an e-filer and pay a small fee, “which would be less than $6, one time per case,” before granting the attorney “access to the entire electronic court record on their office or home computer.”
Some exceptions to the rule would apply. Pro se litigants who file less than 10 cases per year are exempt. In addition, the fee will be waived for any indigent clients or for government agencies, such as the public defender, district attorney, and child support agencies.
As with any discussion about making information available on the Internet, there are privacy concerns. However, says Koschnick, “I think it’s important to point out that we’re not changing any substantive law.”
The petition is intended as “a methodical, well-thought out plan for implementation rather than doing it haphazardly.” As such, says Koschnick, “we propose … that the rollout take place over a three-year period: January of 2016 through December of 2018.”
“We’ll implement it on a county-by-county basis taking the counties that are interested in implementing it first.” Moreover, says Koschnick, “we’ll have CCAP support people on the ground prior to launch and during the launch to work with county bar associations, law offices, government users, and others who are interested in learning how to use the system.”
Ensuring Confidentiality in E-Filing Records
Appearing on behalf of the CCAP Steering Committee, Racine County Circuit Court Judge Gerald Ptacek urged the Board of Governors to support a related petition, filed in November, requiring parties to redact “protected information” from court documents before filing.
“It is the responsibility of the filer of the documents to keep the information out of the records, not the responsibility of the courts.” Ptacek underscores that the petition “will help protect people who are filers, or people who are parties in cases, in terms of their confidentiality of records.”
Furthermore, the petition also protects clients from identity theft by requiring “that when documents are filed, certain identifiers such as Social Security numbers, financial record numbers, passport numbers, driver’s license numbers, and so on,” be appropriately removed.
The petition also provides flexibility for attorneys and clients. Parties can file documents that they want to keep confidential, requiring a court hearing before any are made public if another party objects to the confidentiality. Ptacek foresees using such an arrangement for financial disclosure statements in a divorces.
“Things that are already required in law to be filed confidentially will be filed confidentially,” says Ptacek. However, for documents such as medical records and corporate trade secrets, a form will be filed with those documents that “preliminarily keeps it confidential until the other parties and the court can weigh in and decide whether it should or should not be.”
The petitioners are seeking support for the petitions from the State Bar’s Board of Governors, which is expected to make a decision at its February meeting.