E-filing begins Monday in Cole County circuit courts

The courts aren’t going to be paper-less.

But electronic filing becomes the rule Monday in the Cole County circuit courts.

The reminder is in bright red letters at the bottom of the Missouri Courts system’s online home page, at www.courts.mo.gov: “Beginning April 28, attorneys in Cole County will be required to use the Missouri eFiling System.”

Cole County Circuit Clerk Dawnel Davidson and her staff have been getting ready for the change for months.

“I think a lot of the attorneys are ready to go,” she said late last week. “I know that people who practice just locally are going to go through some changes.

“But a lot of the state agencies that work with the courts system, and the attorneys who work in different, multi-county circuits are already familiar with the system.”

The switch affects lawyers and the courts.

“It doesn’t really mean anything different for the public,” Davidson told the News Tribune. “The public (still) is going to be able to access any records” online, using the Case.net docket reporting system, www.courts.mo.gov/casenet.

The e-filing system will not give the public direct access to individual documents within a file — people still will have to go to the courthouse and get copies of specific pages they’re interested in.

Under the local court rules, those copies will be 50 cents a page, with a $3 minimum, Davidson said.

People seeking to file small claims cases or orders of protection still must do that in person and fill out paper documents, with the circuit clerk’s staff then scanning those documents into the system so it can be handled as an e-case.

Although the switch is expected to have little direct effect on most people, it comes at some cost to taxpayers.

“This all costs the county in regards to getting prepared for all of the equipment that’s needed to be able to run the e-filing system,” Davidson said. “It’s a shared cost.”

The Office of State Courts Administrator (OSCA) provided new computers, she said.

And the courtrooms’ judges’ benches have been changed “to accommodate all of the equipment, the monitors, the work stations” that judges and their staff will use to keep up with court proceedings on a daily basis, Davidson said, instead of having a paper file for each case.

“We will not be a paper-less society, but we will have less paper,” she noted.

The state’s court operating rules govern the security settings and precautions for the electronic system, Davidson said, with additional changes in local rules made as needed.

A two-page flyer promoting the court system’s electronic filing said: “Benefits of electronic filing for Missouri attorneys include saving time, gas and money – a ‘going green’ approach.”

Davidson said the switch makes major changes in the way a circuit clerk’s office handles court cases.

“Procedurally, without paper we have to do our checks a different way,” she said. “We have to accept the submissions and review them for accuracy, and then we have to wait three days to verify that the (filing) information has been kept.”

Until now, cases have been filed with a paper copy for the official file, with other paper copies made so they can be served on the other parties.

Every time there’s a court hearing for a case — whether it’s just for that case or part of a “Law Day” where a number of cases are discussed for their status, or a sentencing is ordered in a criminal case — each file has to be pulled from the shelves and delivered to the courtroom so the judge can see it and make entries on the case docket.

Under electronic filing, the judge, attorneys and staff will be using electronic copies instead.

“That’s going to alleviate storage of files and, just, the headache of trying to locate the files,” Davidson said. “It’s completely different from what we’re used to.

“So we’ve had to think about the different possibilities and scenarios that could creep up, and how we’re going to get that information to one another, to the judges and, then, to the public.”

Cases filed in recent months have been scanned into the system and treated as electronic files, even though the Cole County court hasn’t been on the e-case system, officially.

“The staff has done a remarkable job of keeping up with both a paper copy and an electronic copy for the last year,” Davidson said.

Cole County is the seventh of 31 counties that the state is adding to the e-filing system in 2014.

Osage County is scheduled to join on Sept. 15, and Morgan County is on the list for Oct. 27.

Boone County was added earlier this year. Callaway County was among the first to implement e-filing, in October 2012.

The Missouri Supreme Court began using the process in 2011 and the three appeals court districts joined in 2012.

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