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Rotunda Report
  • Rotunda Report
    September 23, 2014

    Mandatory E-filing: Proposal Mandates Electronic Court Filings in Wisconsin

    E-filing casesSept. 23, 2014 – All court filings must be filed electronically, under a proposal by the Committee of Chief Judges, which voted unanimously in June to move forward on a plan to implement mandatory e-filing beginning in 2016.

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court appoints a Committee of Chief Judges, consisting of one judge from each of the state’s 10 judicial administrative districts. These judges meet and convene subcommittees to consider issues affecting that state’s trial courts. In recent years, the Committee of Chief Judges created a subcommittee to study mandatory e-filing.

    In 2008, the Wisconsin Supreme Court approved a rule that allows counties to voluntarily participate in e-filing in small claims, family, and civil cases. Participation was not mandatory. As of May 2014, only 24 of 72 counties offer e-filing as an option.

    In addition, less than 1 percent of all cases filed in Wisconsin were filed electronically from 2009 to 2013. Thus, trial courts did not fully realize the efficiencies envisioned by an e-filing system. Now, the chief judges are recommending that e-filing go full-steam ahead.

    Randy Koschnick, a circuit court judge in Jefferson County and a member of the eFiling Implementation Subcommittee that released a report and proposed rule in August, says the mandatory e-filing rule would create greater efficiencies in a number of ways.

    “People are usually resistant to change, and that is evident from low numbers on voluntary e-filing,” Judge Koschnick said. “But e-filing is inevitable. Ultimately, if a mandatory rule is adopted, people will come to realize the efficiency of that system.”

    Greater Efficiency

    Judge Koschnick says various stakeholders would realize the efficiency of mandatory e-filing, including judges, lawyers, court staff, and the public. And there is evidence that it works well, based on the experiences of nine states with mandatory e-filing.

    In addition, e-filing is mandatory in all federal courts. Koschnick said the subcommittee visited the federal district court in Madison, where court staff, judges, and attorneys have embraced it. “Everyone we talked to said they would not go back,” he said.

    Larry Mu​rphy, a consultant with the National Center for State Courts, said mandatory e-filing is preferable to a voluntary system to obtain a better return on the investment of an e-filing system. “Wisconsin should move in the direction of becoming a mandatory usage state sooner rather than later,” Murphy told the subcommittee.

    “We have come to learn that e-filing is really all or nothing,” Judge Koschnick said. “A system with half paper and half electronic just isn’t going to be efficient.”

    So what efficiencies does a mandatory e-filing system create? For judges, they won’t spend time tracking down physical files, and they will have greater flexibility.

    “A lot of time is spent on the paper chase. If all case files are electronic, we can simply bring them up on our computers,” Judge Koschnick said. “The e-filing system also allows us to access files from home, if we are working on evenings or weekends.”

    In addition, some case files must be stored for decades, depending on the type of case. A mandatory e-filing system would eliminate the need for physical storage of files.

    The change would also reduce data entry for court staff. When a case is filed in-person or through the mail, court staff must enter the case and document information into the Consolidated Court Automation Program's (CCAP's) case management system. 

    Mandatory e-filing would eliminate this step, because the e-filers would enter that information when filing electronically. Koschnick said it would also likely reduce the chances for data entry errors.

    E-filers receive an immediate electronic receipt of filing. And, like judges, the e-filing system would help create greater benefits and efficiencies for attorneys and their staff.

    For instance, filings received electronically by 11:59 p.m. on any given day would be considered filed on that day. Normally, the time for filing ends at close of business day.

    “I remember signing documents at 4:15 p.m., then jumping in my car in order to file the document before the court closed that day,” said Koschnick, a former public defender.

    “With e-filing, attorneys have a little more time to file those documents, and they can do it from their offices, their homes, or wherever they happen to be,” said Koschnick, who noted that e-filing would also save attorneys (and their clients) costs on mailing fees.

    All court files would be accessible by authorized parties 24 hours per day. Attorneys can delegate staff to file case documents, and can grant client access to the files.

    E-filing would also allow parties to access documents in court, on their computers, without physically bringing the often large case files into the particular court proceeding.

    What is the Plan?

    The Committee of Chief Judges will propose a new mandatory e-filing rule to the Wisconsin Supreme Court this fall. The rule applies to all types of cases and would first apply to new cases and any new filing in an open case.

    Joe ForwardJoe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.

    Attorneys must file electronically. However, self-represented litigants could still participate voluntarily, unless it is an agent who files 10 or more actions per year. Under the three-year roll-out plan, mandatory e-filing would start in 2016.

    Over this three-year period, the Director of State Courts and the CCAP Steering Committee would select counties to implement the mandatory e-filing program, as determined by county readiness and after an opportunity for outreach and training.

    Mandatory e-filing would be up and running in all 72 counties by the end of 2018, under the current proposal. The Director of State Courts will develop an education, support, and training plan months before a county is designated to begin the mandatory program.

    A proposed redaction and confidentiality rule would require all e-filers to redact certain protected information from documents and submit it in a confidential manner if material to a proceeding. 

    The intention of this rule is to ensure privacy and deter identity theft by protecting social security numbers, bank account numbers, and similar information.

    How Much Will it Cost?

    The mandatory e-filing proposal requires state budgeted start-up costs to pay for software enhancements to the e-filing system, new scanners, large screen monitors, and the onsite training necessary for court staff and filers. After the initial start-up costs, the e-filing program will be self-sustaining.

    Currently, the e-filing fee is $5 per case, paid when the case begins. Credit card vendors charge an additional 2.75 percent processing fee. These fees are substantially lower than other states with mandatory e-filing programs. Unlike Wisconsin, most other states use commercial vendors to provide e-filing.

    For instance, Michigan charges a $10 e-filing fee per case. Utah charges $5 per case and a $26 monthly attorney fee. Arkansas charges $20 per case and a $100 attorney registration fee.

    The Subcommittee Wants Your Feedback

    Judge Koschnick recognizes that mandatory e-filing will present a big change for attorneys who don’t already take advantage of voluntary e-filing programs. The Committee of Chief Judges seeks comments or concerns about the proposal.

    “We are trying to be forward-looking on this issue, but we aren’t trying to impose this without an opportunity for feedback from the bar,” Judge Koschnick said.

    “We see it as an inevitable change, and we want to plan ahead and do it in an orderly manner so we can make it as smooth a transition as possible.”

    The proposed rule and the committee's report are posted at: 

    Those with comments, concerns, or suggestions about the proposal for mandatory e-filing in Wisconsin should email them to by Friday, Oct. 10. Any feedback will be collected and directed to the Committee of Chief Judges for consideration before the petition is filed.

    The committee will finalize the rule petition and submit it to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the end of October, with a request that the petition be heard in the spring. State Bar members will have an additional opportunity to comment when the petition is filed.

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