On April 28, 2016, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously approved Rule Petition 14-03 to begin a gradual transition to mandatory electronic filing in the circuit courts. The new rule is enacted as Wis. Stat. section 801.18 and is posted on the court “eFiling” website at www.wicourts.gov/eFile. The software and website for e-filing is provided by the Consolidated Court Automation Program (CCAP).
This article answers the three most common questions attorneys ask about mandatory e-filing:
When will mandatory e-filing affect my practice?
How much will e-filing cost?
What must I do to get ready?
When Will Mandatory E-filing Affect My Practice?
The new rule takes effect July 1, 2016. However, e-filing does not become mandatory in every county on that date. The plan is to mandate e-filing county by county and case type by case type beginning this July. This will allow CCAP to provide in-person training for lawyers, law office staff, and other court users when each county moves to mandatory e-filing.
Jean Bousquet is chief information officer of the Wisconsin court system and oversees development of electronic filing for the court system.
Marcia Vandercook, Berkeley 1978, is circuit court legal advisor and staff to the committees that proposed the e-filing rule.
For lawyers who are already e-filing, two important things will happen statewide on July 1, 2016. First, the old e-filing rule will be repealed and the procedures of new Wis. Stat. section 801.18 will apply to both voluntary and mandatory e-filing, so lawyers must immediately become familiar with the new rule for any e-filed cases pending on that date. A summary of the new rule accompanies this article.
Second, CCAP will upgrade the e-filing software for the case types already in use in 53 counties for voluntary e-filing: civil, small-claims, family, and paternity. The most noticeable change to the software is the ability of law office staff to file under the lawyer’s signature without asking the lawyer to personally enter his or her personal identification number (PIN).
The rollout for mandatory e-filing will occur in several broad phases. To begin, CCAP will work with a pilot county to ensure the e-filing system is ready for statewide implementation. On June 1, 2016, Dodge County will become the first county to require e-filing for civil, small-claims, family, and paternity cases.
Dodge County Judge John R. Storck is a long-time supporter of e-filing. He said, “We are honored and excited to be the pilot county for mandatory e-filing. We have been working with voluntary e-filing for years and the response of the bar has been very positive. We look forward to adding the other new case types as they are developed.”
On July 1, 2016, Ozaukee County will become the next mandatory county. Ozaukee County Clerk of Circuit Court Mary Lou Mueller has already formed a transition team that includes judges, court staff, county attorneys, and local bar representatives to work out any issues. According to Mueller, “Change is hard, but we’ve done a lot of the important preparation already. With good communication, I think we can manage the transition in a way that will work for everyone.”
Starting on July 1, 2016, mandatory e-filing for the first four case types will be rolled out at the average rate of 12 counties per quarter. Counties will be notified at least two months before they are expected to go mandatory, and notice will be provided to lawyers and other court users. The careful pace of the rollout is modeled on recent successful implementations in the Iowa and Minnesota court systems.
Many counties have volunteered to be early adopters. A tentative list of counties to be implemented in 2016 accompanies this article; this list will be finalized through pre-site visits to each county. In early 2017, implementation will move to the other counties that already offer voluntary e-filing. By the end of 2017, all counties will be converted to mandatory e-filing for civil, small-claims, family, and paternity cases.
Other case types will be scheduled as resources permit. Mandatory e-filing for criminal, forfeiture, and traffic cases will start in 2017. Implementation of each case type may be preceded by a period of voluntary e-filing, so filers can become familiar with the system before it becomes mandatory. The goal is statewide implementation of all case types by the end of 2019 at the very latest. A timetable for appellate court mandatory e-filing has not been set.
Judge Robert J. Wirtz, chief judge of the Fourth Judicial District and chair of the Chief Judges E-filing Implementation Subcommittee, notes, “Our committee spent several years looking at how e-filing works in other state courts and the federal courts. The jurisdictions that mandate e-filing for attorneys are the ones that reap the benefits most quickly. After it’s done, no one ever wants to go back to the paper world.”
When Mandatory E-filing Applies
Mandatory E-filing Rollout for Civil, Family, Small-claims, and Paternity Cases
(CV, FA, SC, and PA case types)
|June 1, 2016
||Dodge County – pilot county
|July 1, 2016
|Aug. 1, 2016
|Aug. - Sept. 2016
||Adams, Barron, Chippewa, Clark, Columbia, Dunn, Florence, La Crosse, Pierce, Waupaca (tentative, subject to pre-site review) counties
|Oct. - Dec. 2016
||Ashland, Clark, Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Green, Green Lake, Juneau, Marathon, Oneida, Racine, Rusk, Sawyer, Waukesha, Winnebago (tentative, subject to pre-site review) counties
|Jan. - Dec. 2017
||All remaining counties to be implemented for CV, FA, SC, and PA case types
How Much Will It Cost?
To build a robust, user-friendly e-filing system, the e-filing fee has been set at $20 per case per party. The court system sought state funding to build the e-filing system and keep the fee low, but the funding request was denied.
The Director’s Office, the Committee of Chief Judges, and the CCAP Steering Committee looked at alternatives. The option of using a commercial e-filing provider was seriously considered, but the services offered were less than CCAP could provide and harder to customize for Wisconsin law and practice. In states where court e-filing is not supported by public funding, the private bar often pays more for commercial vendor services than the $20 fee, and the costs are largely outside the control of either the court or the bar.
The State Bar Board of Governors unanimously supported going forward. The Board of Governors expressed a strong preference to use a local solution and recognized that the $20 fee will be less expensive than the vendor systems used in other e-filing courts. The fact that CCAP has developed Wisconsin’s court case-management technology in house has enabled it to be exceptionally flexible and responsive to user needs, and those advantages likely will carry over to the e-filing system.
On the date that e-filing becomes mandatory for a particular case type,
the clerk will have the active files for those cases scanned and ready for
lawyers to upload new documents.
Judge Randy R. Koschnick is chief judge of the Third Judicial District and served on the Chief Judges E-filing Implementation Subcommittee. He said, “We worked closely with the Director’s Office over several years to explore all the options. We came to the conclusion that CCAP could produce a better product at a lower cost than any of the commercial vendors, giving us much more control over our system and better service for both the courts and the bar.”
Starting on July 1, 2016, the fee structure for both mandatory and voluntary e-filing will be the following:
The basic fee will be $20 per case per party or group of parties.
The fee will be applied in civil, small-claims, family, probate, criminal, and forfeiture cases.
The fee will be waived for indigent parties when the filing fee is waived under Wis. Stat. section 814.29, and for clients of means-tested civil legal services and pro bono programs. Self-represented parties are not required to e-file at all.
The fee will be waived for state, county, and municipal agencies, including district attorneys, State Public Defenders (SPDs) and SPD-appointed counsel, court-appointed counsel, child support agencies, corporation counsel, the Department of Justice, and county and municipal attorneys.
For lawyers, the $20 fee is offset by reduced costs for postage, couriers, and service of subsequent documents. Filing fees can be paid by using a credit card or electronic check or by setting up a court debit account with clerks of circuit court. The fee is a recoverable cost under Wis. Stat. section 801.18(7)(c).
The e-filing website also offers several valuable features. It includes a custom portal for each lawyer with links to all cases on which the lawyer is registered. The list can be sorted by party name, county, date, type of case, and open or closed status. Each case contains links to access the complete court record, all pleadings and correspondence filed with the court, transcripts and reports, and a calendar feature. Lawyers can view and download documents and orders as soon as they are filed. The e-filing website is accessible from any Internet-connected device, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
According to the Hon. Patience D. Roggensack, chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, “We are pleased to have moved e-filing forward. Electronic data entry and storage will create efficiencies in case management for the courts and for the counties who support our circuit courts. We believe the lawyers who utilize Wisconsin’s court system will find greater efficiencies for their offices as well. It is notable that we accomplished this change with the unanimous support of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Wisconsin.”
Summary: New Provisions in the Mandatory E-filing Rule
New Wis. Stat. section 801.18 applies to all cases e-filed on or after July 1, 2016, whether mandatory or voluntary, so all e-filers must be aware of them. The new rule’s most important changes are the following:
The rule makes e-filing mandatory for all Wisconsin lawyers and lawyers appearing pro hac vice who file in circuit court. The rule will gradually become applicable as e-filing rolls out across the state and as new case types become available. The rule applies to both new cases and new filings in existing cases.
The rule applies to small-claims filers who file 10 or more actions per year in a county under Wis. Stat. section 799.06, typically utilities, debt-collection firms, and property-management companies.
The rule allows but does not require self-represented parties to e-file.
The rule allows verification of a small-claims complaint without notarization to make e-filing easier for self-represented parties. The clerk will scan in filings for “paper parties.”
The rule provides that any document submitted to the court through the electronic filing system is considered signed by the lawyer responsible for the account. Law office staff can see cases, prepare pleadings, pay filing fees, and file documents under the lawyer’s signature when authorized to do so. Lawyers are responsible for all documents so filed. Law office staff will now log in under a lawyer’s account rather than through a delegation process.
Once initial service has been established, service on other e-filing parties is accomplished through the e-filing system. Traditional methods of service are still required for case-initiating documents, when personal service is required by statute, and for service on “paper parties.”
The rule extends the filing deadline until 11:59 p.m. on the day a filing is due. Documents filed on a day the clerk’s office is closed are considered filed the next day the office is open.
Clerks of court will keep the court record only in electronic format. This means that parties will file copies, not originals, of all documents. If the authenticity of a document is questioned, the court may require that the original be filed and retained by the court.
Court reporters will upload transcripts to the file. Attorneys will be able to view and download transcripts as soon as they have made arrangements for payment.
Electronic notarization is no longer available. Filers must notarize by traditional methods and upload a scanned PDF version of the document. This will be revisited when the state of Wisconsin approves an electronic notary technology for general use.
What Must I Do to Get Ready?
When each county goes mandatory, CCAP staff will be present onsite to provide hands-on training for all users: judges, court staff, lawyers and law office staff, agencies, high-volume filers, and self-help centers. The team will stay for several days to one week, training, trouble-shooting, and answering questions. CCAP will also provide assistance with technical questions through email, Web chat, and a telephone help line, plus a website with instructions and tutorials.
To prepare for an easy transition, lawyers who handle civil and family cases should start e-filing those cases now. This will allow their firms to begin gradually and add cases as the lawyers and the staff become comfortable with the process.
As with other law office technology, the primary users of the e-filing system will not necessarily be lawyers. Even when lawyers feel trepidation about the change, they probably have staff members who are looking forward to it. Many law offices have made the move to e-filing by appointing a point person to learn the system and teach everyone else what they need to know. The new rule makes the process easier by allowing law office staff to apply the lawyer’s signature and file pleadings on the lawyer’s behalf when authorized to do so.
On the date that e-filing becomes mandatory for a particular case type, the clerk will have the active files for those cases scanned and ready for lawyers to upload new documents. Closed case files will be scanned if new activity occurs. Lawyers must file exclusively through the e-filing system for mandatory case types. The e-filing website will always have current information about the requirements in each county. The Director of State Courts Office is working with the clerks of court and registers in probate to make sure they can answer questions and provide local assistance.
Attorney Katherine Koepsell practices at Quincey Becker Schuessler Chase & Devitt in Mayville and has used e-filing since it first became available in Dodge County. She said, “I’m delighted that electronic filing in Wisconsin is now mandatory. The burden of juggling both a paper system and an electronic system will be lightened for parties, attorneys, courthouse and legal staff, and judges. We will all have much to learn as the e-filing process becomes streamlined, but the efficiency and environmental benefits of computer-based filing will outweigh any temporary inconvenience. I am proud our state has embraced this step to make our court system more accessible to the public.”
E-filing: How to Get Started
Circuit court e-filing provides an easy and efficient way to conduct business with the courts. Circuit court e-filing will feel very familiar to lawyers who already e-file with the federal courts or who upload briefs for the Wisconsin appellate courts. Filing a case is fast and easy: enter basic case and party information, upload the filing documents, and make payment. If you have been putting it off, now is the time for you and your staff to try it.
As mandatory e-filing is enabled throughout the state, lawyers can do several things to ensure they and their staff are ready.
Set Up your eCourts Account. Most Wisconsin lawyers already have an eCourts account, which is used to e-file with the circuit and appellate courts and to file continuing legal education requirements with the Board of Bar Examiners. Visit logon.wicourts.gov to check for an existing account or to create a new one. To register, lawyers must provide identifying information including name, address, State Bar member number, and email address. Check your email inbox for an activation message from eCourts.Administration@wicourts.gov. Click on the activation link to finish creating your account. Lawyers and their law office staff members will use this account to log into the e-filing website to file pleadings.
Prepare Your Computer System. Make sure you have all necessary tools in place to use the e-filing system. Most documents must be filed in searchable PDF format, with the exception of proposed orders, which must be filed in Microsoft Word 2007 or higher. Any document requiring a handwritten signature, such as an affidavit, must be scanned. The technical requirements include:
Internet access (a high-speed connection is best)
Web browser (for example, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 9 or newer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari)
Scanner to output documents in searchable PDF format
An active email account that will accept messages from @wicourts.gov addresses
Microsoft Word 2007 or newer
PDF conversion software
Watch Online Tutorials and Attend a Local Training Session. The court system’s e-filing website includes several video tutorials to introduce filers to the various components of the e-filing system. As counties transition to mandatory e-filing, CCAP staff will be onsite in the circuit courts to provide hands-on training. These training sessions will allow you to ask questions, and you and your staff can practice using the system. Watch for mandatory e-filing in a nearby county, and sign up for one of the free, one-hour training sessions hosted by CCAP staff.
Subscribe to Updates. Stay informed about upcoming implementations and other e-filing-related news by following @CCAP_Wisconsin on Twitter or subscribe to the email subscription service on the court system’s e-filing website. These services will provide immediate notification about upcoming implementations and other e-filing-related news.
Review the Online Payment System. The e-filing system allows payment of filing fees online using an electronic check or a MasterCard or Visa credit card. The circuit courts use US Bank as the electronic payment vendor. You must enter payment information for your initial case-filing payment, but this information can be saved on the US Bank website for use on subsequent filings. A court debit account can also be used to pay filing fees. With the court debit account, money is put on deposit with the clerks of circuit court offices and used to pay for filings submitted through the e-filing system.
Practice E-filing Before It Is Mandatory. Fifty-three counties offer voluntary e-filing for civil, small-claims, family, and paternity cases. The transition to mandatory e-filing will be smoother if you and your staff are already familiar with the system. Don’t create extra pressure by waiting until mandatory e-filing is in place. File cases with courts that offer voluntary e-filing to allow you and your staff a means to practice. The first few filings may take extra time on your part, but as you become familiar with the process you will be filing cases in minutes.
Appoint an Office Expert. Processing cases electronically will be a learning curve for lawyers and their staff. Law firms will realize a much smoother transition if they have at least one in-house expert who can help others as they begin to use e-filing. The office expert should attend training in advance and provide guidance and be a resource for others as they navigate how the new system and processes work.
File During Business Hours When Support is Available. The e-filing system is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and you can file documents at any time. However, if you wish to file after hours, you will not have access to court staff or technical staff if something goes wrong. File during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., when staff members at most courthouses and CCAP support services are available to assist you.
Read the Supreme Court Rule. Make sure to review the Wisconsin Supreme Court e-filing rule for in-depth information about the implementation of mandatory e-filing and the transition from paper to electronic court files.
What Is the Effect on Public Access to Court Records?
Electronic court files will be available to the public through the public-access terminal located in the offices of the clerks and registers. For access to confidential records, authorized individuals can request a temporary access code that will allow them to look at files in the courthouse for a limited period of time. The clerk or register will print copies on request at the current price per page.
Attorneys and self-represented parties who e-file can log into the e-filing website to view and manage their own case files around the clock. The CCAP case-management software will be updated to give clerks and registers the ability to control which parties can view confidential and sealed documents, and court reporters will be able to make transcripts available only to parties who have paid for them.
The e-filing rule does not include development of a PACER-type system in which court documents are available on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access website (WCCA). Circuit court documents will continue to be available to the general public only at the courthouse in the county where the case is filed. Careful study must precede online public access to court documents. The Director of State Courts is currently working to reconvene the WCCA Oversight Committee to consider this issue, among others.
Where to Learn More About E-filing
Register for “To eFile or Not to eFile: It’s No Longer a Question,” a one-hour (12 to 1 p.m.) webcast produced by State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®. Upcoming dates: July 28; Aug. 5, 11, 16, 25, and 30. Learn the requirements and step-by-step procedures.
Also, the Director of State Courts Office will send updates through State Bar communications and will work with clerks and judges on outreach efforts for local bar associations.
CCAP is developing a new e-filing website, www.wicourts.gov/eFile, with links to the new rule, training materials, step-by-step instructions, and frequently asked questions. It will include maps and lists to show which counties have mandatory e-filing and when new case types are scheduled.
Lawyers and their staff can also subscribe to notification services for direct user updates on the e-filing rollout and other important notices by using email subscriptions or by following @CCAP_Wisconsin on Twitter.
Over the last few years the Wisconsin circuit courts have become increasingly electronic. Voluntary e-filing is available in 53 counties for civil, family, and small-claims cases. Clerks of court have converted from paper to electronic files at an impressive rate. Many judges are managing their cases and working through their in-court calendars electronically. In a growing number of counties, the circuit court has dispensed with paper files altogether.
According to Director of State Courts J. Denis Moran, “This change has been many years in the planning and we are confident that in the long run it will make Wisconsin courts more efficient and responsive to the needs of our citizens. We think lawyers and judges will appreciate the efficiency that electronic filing offers. We greatly appreciate the cooperation of the bar in making this historic transition.”
Save This: Important Contacts
www.wicourts.gov/ecourts/efilecircuit/docs/eFilingrule.pdf– Wisconsin Supreme Court e-filing rule for in-depth information about implementing mandatory e-filing, enacted as Wis. Stat. section 801.18.
www.wicourts.gov/eFile– Wisconsin Supreme Court e-filing website, for links to the new rule, training materials, step-by-step instructions, and frequently asked questions.
@CCAP_Wisconsin– Follow CCAP on Twitter account for direct user updates and other important notices about mandatory e-filing.
logon.wicourts.gov– To check for an existing eCourts account or to create a new one.