January 3, 2014

Attorneys in Tarrant now must file civil cases electronically

The change, which took effect Wednesday in 10 of the state’s most populous counties, is designed to cut down on paper, provide better security and reduce costs.

Attorneys handling civil cases in Tarrant County are now required to file their court documents electronically.

On Wednesday, Texas began its mandatory e-filing system in 10 of the most populous counties, including Tarrant, Dallas, Collin, Denton, Bexar, Harris and El Paso.

All case types in the Texas Supreme Court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 14 appeals courts must also be filed electronically.

All 254 Texas counties must have e-filing in place by 2016. Criminal cases and juvenile courts are not included in the order.

In December 2012, the Texas Supreme Court ordered counties to move to an e-filing system to cut down on paper and save tax dollars. The change was also touted as a way to shorten lines in clerks’ offices and to make it easier to file, because all that’s needed is an Internet connection.

Electronic filing will also promote transparency and provide better security for records, the court said.

“E-filing promotes the efficient and uniform administration of justice,” Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, said in a news release.

This year, the new system, eFileTexas, is expected to handle 3.5 million filings, according to a news release from the Office of Court Administration.

Megan LaVoie, a spokeswoman for the Office of Court Administration, said in an email that the state expects “significant savings based on information from other courts and counties that have switched to paperless filing.” She said the cost savings is expected to vary from county to county.

She referred to a study from Las Vegas, in Clark County, Nev., that demonstrated savings that included reducing customer service windows from 13 to three, reducing employees who manually file paperwork from 20 to three, and converting 20,000 square feet in the clerk’s office to eight additional courtrooms.

“Texas clerks have indicated to us that, by going paperless, they will be able to utilize employees for higher-functioning jobs,” LaVoie wrote.

Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia, whose office handles filings for three county courts-at-law and two probate courts, said her office is “moving forward” with the electronic-filing requirements.

Garcia said she already had the Odyssey system in place, from the Plano-based vendor Tyler Technologies, so the transition was not too difficult.

Garcia said she and District Clerk Tom Wilder worked with the Tarrant County Bar Association and Tyler Technologies to ensure that attorneys were aware of the requirements.

“My take is that it’s here, and we are doing the best that we can for the attorneys who are e-filing,” she said.

Wilder said that, although he is not happy about the requirement, his office is also ready for the new method.

He said his office was given only five days to test the system before it went live. He described glitches such as some filings getting “hung up” in the system for several hours or overnight before reaching Tarrant County.

He also criticized new accounting procedures for handling filing fees.

“Our old system allowed us to directly debit the attorneys’ accounts,” he said. “Attorneys now have to use credit cards. It’s like any other merchant; I don’t get my money right away.”

Wilder, whose office handles criminal as well as civil filings, dealt with 61,558 cases in 2013, including 40,000 civil and family filings.

The Texas Supreme Court does not require pro se litigants, those who are representing themselves, to file electronically.

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