What does the future hold for court filing in California?

court filing in California

California is moving towards eFiling – but change is uneven, resulting in a complex patchwork of electronic courts, and those stuck on the traditional paper route. What’s going on?

Outside of California, a number of states – Texas, for instance – have now implemented uniform electronic document management systems, including electronic document filing (eFiling), throughout their courts. Likewise, the federal courts have a uniform, fully functional, integrated document management system. California doesn’t.

That California lacks a statewide solution doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. It does make the changes taking place in the state more complicated, though. In fact, in their 2014 survey of efforts by the state’s superior courts to implement eFiling, the judicial branch noted that “the results… appear as diverse as the 58 counties addressing the issue.”

So what’s going on in the Golden State’s 58 superior court systems? What does the future hold for court filing in California?

The failure of the California Case Management System (CCMS)

Recognizing that many of the state’s courts needed to replace antiquated and failing case management systems, the judicial branch began, in the mid-2000s, to develop a statewide solution.

The California Case Management System (CCMS), as it was known, had been intended to be the centerpiece of a statewide solution, providing a single system that could facilitate eFiling and electronic document management in all of the state’s 58 county-level courts.

Facing substantial budget challenges, and with the CCMS having cost upwards of $500 million to develop, the judicial branch voted to stop deployment in March 2012. With the CCMS no longer being developed and despite some courts – Orange County and San Diego, for instance – continuing to make use of what remains of the CCMS, most of California’s 58 superior courts are now managing the future of their case management systems individually.

A handful of courts already offer some eFiling

The last couple of years have seen a handful of court systems – Orange County, San Diego, and San Francisco being three significant examples – mandate eFiling for some, or in the case of Orange County all, categories of civil cases.

In Orange and San Diego Counties, eFiling is facilitated – for now at least – through the surviving version of the CCMS while, in San Francisco, an entirely different vendor has stepped in. To add to the complexity, some courts – Santa Clara, for example – have developed one-off solutions for complex cases only.

Sounds confusing, eh? The good news for you, the ultimate users of these multifarious systems, is that because One Legal provides a statewide filing service we sync in seamlessly with all 58 courts, whatever back-office system they’re using.

About half of CA’s counties will start offering eFiling within the next two years

Around 25 superior courts, among them Los Angeles (by far the biggest court in the state, accounting for over 2 million annual filings), have opted to adopt a case management system called Odyssey, provided by government tech mega-firm Tyler Technologies.

Some of these courts have taken advantage of a Master Services Agreement (MSA) negotiated between the Judicial Branch and Tyler in 2013, which allows courts to purchase the Odyssey system with pre-negotiated terms and conditions.

This system integrates with Electronic Filing Service Providers (EFSPs) like One Legal, meaning that law firms can continue to file through a system they know and trust to get their papers quickly and easily filed at these courts.

With all of this change taking place, and little sign that the budget crisis facing our courts will end any time soon, some EFSPs have stepped in to fill another gap: support. Reaching a clerk to get a question answered or a problem solved can be hard, which is why One Legal offers clear advice, helpful hints and answers to common questions right in our workflow. We also offer regular, MCLE accredited training webinars and, crucially, a team of dedicated, California-based customer support reps.

A number of smaller courts don’t have any plans at all

Not all counties have a plan, however. A number of smaller counties (the likes of rural and mountainous Sierra County, which handles just 0.08% of all cases filed in California, for example) may not have the technical expertise or the budget to transition to an e-business infrastructure.

Responding to the Judicial Branch’s 2014 survey, Mono county (which handles fewer than 6,500 case filings a year), summed up the situation facing smaller courts: “As a very small court, we do not have the resources to implement such an ambitious project, given the cost and benefit, which is very high cost with moderate to low benefit.”

Some courts, it seems, will continue to require paper filings for the foreseeable future. With that said, we recently had a conversation with one judge at one of these smaller counties where we suggested that the effort may be worthwhile: as more and more courts close branches and reduce hours, and so become even more concerned with their constituents’ access to justice, an eFiling solution may make sense.

One Legal is a bridge across the electronic and paper divide

Given the mixture of physical-only and eFiling courts in California, it’s not surprising that things can get complicated, especially if you’re filing across multiple counties. Fortunately, One Legal – uniquely in California – offers a single, easy-to-use, online portal for filing and serving papers, whether to an eFiling court or one still on the more traditional paper path. Find out more about how we are making it easy for firms to navigate the California courts.

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