Wisconsin Lawyer: What's new in the court rule?:

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    What's new in the court rule?

    The new rule, codified as Wis. Stat. section 801.17, makes as few changes as possible from current practices and procedures. Changes were necessary in four key areas to achieve the efficiency that is the hallmark of electronic filing, while the fifth change provides added protection for confidential documents.

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 7, July 2008

    What's new in the court rule?

    The new rule, codified as Wis. Stat. section 801.17, makes as few changes as possible from current practices and procedures. Changes were necessary in four key areas to achieve the efficiency that is the hallmark of electronic filing, while the fifth change provides added protection for confidential documents.

    1. Electronic filing and service. The technical requirements of the e-filing system are basic ones such as Internet access, an e-mail address, and the ability to create PDF files. Unless personal service is required, documents are served through the electronic filing system on the other registered users.
    2. Electronic recordkeeping. Clerks are allowed to maintain electronic files instead of paper ones. Parties filing paper documents must submit copies instead of original pleadings and exhibits so the clerk can keep an electronic record instead of a paper one.
    3. Electronic signatures. The e-filing system includes an electronic signature component. Attorneys, self-represented parties, and court officials are allowed to use this secure, confidential electronic signature instead of a handwritten one.
    4. Electronic notarization. Notaries will have electronic signatures and seals so that paper documents need not be generated for the sole purpose of notarizing them.
    5. Confidential documents. The filing party must identify confidential documents (such as the financial disclosure statement and confidential petition addendum in a family case) and note confidential information contained within an otherwise open document (such as a trade secret included in a motion).

    The Hon. Gerald Ptacek, Racine County Circuit Court, chaired the court committee that drafted the new e-filing rule. "In moving to a paperless system, the committee did its best to mirror existing procedures and how things are done in the paper world. Most of the changes are really quite simple: instead of putting pen to paper, e-filing users will be putting `fingers to the keyboard.' The procedure remains the same, only the means is changed."

    What's required of the law office?

    • Registration. Lawyers become "registered users" by signing up online and providing identifying information such as name, address, State Bar member number, and email address. Lawyers then are provided with a user name and password that allows them to use the e-filing system for any of their cases. They also are assigned a personal identification number (PIN) that allows them to sign pleadings electronically.
    • Filing a new case. To file a new case, a lawyer or lawyer's staff member (the user) enters basic information on the e-filing Web site, including party names and addresses, case class code, the name of the county in which the case is being filed, and the name of the document being filed. The filing fee is calculated automatically and can be paid by credit card or electronic fund transfer. The user attaches a copy of the summons and complaint or petition as a portable document format (PDF) file. The lawyer signs the pleadings by typing in his or her user name, password, and PIN, and then submits the documents to the e-filing system.
    • Service of a new case. All properly filed documents are sent to a queue in the clerk of circuit court's office. The clerk reviews the documents and accepts them for filing. The CCAP case management system creates a case automatically using the information entered by the user on the e-filing Web site. The system assigns a case number and authenticates the document. An email is sent automatically to the user indicating that the case has been successfully filed. The email includes a link to the filed documents, which are available on the e-filing Web site and can be printed and served. Service must be made by traditional means unless the defendant agrees to accept electronic service.
    • Answer. The e-filing system generates a notice to be served on defendants with the summons and complaint, letting them know that they may participate in electronic filing if they so choose. Defendants who register will then file and receive all subsequent documents via the e-filing Web site. Defendants who choose not to e-file will file and receive their documents by traditional means such as mail or personal delivery.
    • Subsequent filings. All further transactions between registered users and the court take place via the e-filing Web site. Features allow electronic payment of jury fees, electronic notarization of documents, sealing of confidential documents, and filing of documents and reports by nonparties.
    • Convenience fee. In Wis. Stat. section 758.19(4m), the legislature has given the court authority to establish a convenience fee to cover ongoing costs for maintenance, enhancements, and technical support of the e-filing system. The fee has not yet been set, but CCAP will attempt to keep the cost in line with other Wisconsin state systems and competitive with the costs of traditional filing.

    Will e-filed documents be available on the court's WCCA Web site?

    Attorneys who are familiar with the federal court PACER system might wrongly assume that the Wisconsin courts will make all electronic documents available on the WCCA Web site. In fact, documents are only accessible to the registered users in each case.

    "The e-filing Web site and the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access [WCCA] Web site are two different things," said Director of State Courts John Voelker. "The e-filing Web site will allow registered users to see the complete case file, but only for cases on which they are registered. What you see on the WCCA Web site will be unchanged - we have no plans to make case documents available by the page, the way PACER does."

    This reflects a policy decision by the WCCA Oversight Committee, convened in 2005-06 to consider how much case information should be displayed on the court Web site. According to Voelker, "We are very aware of the need to balance the public interest in open government against the sensitive personal information that court documents sometimes reveal. The public can still see nonconfidential documents by coming to the courthouse, but not over the Internet."

    What resources are on the e-filing Web site?

    Resources on the Wisconsin circuit court e-filing Web site, http://e-filing.wicourts.gov, to debut July 15, 2008, will include:

    • names of counties currently accepting e-filed cases and the types of cases for which e-filing is available;
    • comprehensive instructions and help features;
    • responses to frequently asked questions;
    • technical requirements; and
    • training videos.

    E-filing will become available county by county as clerks of circuit court and judges implement the new procedures. As e-filing is adopted in each county, training will be provided to local lawyers, their employees, and other persons. Because there is no schedule of when individual counties will make e-filing available, lawyers are urged to periodically visit the e-filing Web site.