Oregon State Bar Bulletin OCTOBER 2014
From the Chief Justice
Oregon eCourt Update:
By Hon. Thomas A. Balmer
The Oregon courts are taking a big, but manageable, step forward later this year with the requirement that case documents be electronically filed in the 11 circuit courts now using the Oregon eCourt Case Information (OECI) system, beginning on Dec. 1. We have worked with the Oregon State Bar to make sure that all bar members hear about this change, and I wanted to add my voice to remind you of the new procedure and encourage you to register to eFile and get training well in advance of the Dec. 1 implementation date.
I also want to use this opportunity to give you a brief progress report on the Oregon eCourt Program, talk about what eFiling means for the bar and for the courts, and point you to the many resources available to help bar members successfully transition to eFiling.
Oregon eCourt Program Update
It’s hard for me to believe that two years have passed since we first piloted the OECI system in the Yamhill County Circuit Court. Since then, we have implemented OECI in 10 other courts — from Jackson to Multnomah, and Clatsop to Crook counties. We have continuously refined and improved our implementation process, and I want to thank the bar and Oregon’s lawyers for working with the Judicial Department to improve our process and our product.
We currently are working in 14 more circuit courts to prepare them to implement OECI, and we are less than two years away from having Oregon eCourt implemented throughout the state. Of course, implementation of our OECI system in the trial courts follows by several years our adoption of Oregon eCourt, including eFiling and electronic case management, in the Oregon appellate courts.
In addition to successfully implementing OECI in our state’s largest court and putting the mechanisms in place to permit eFiling, we recently have made most court documents available online to attorneys via a low-cost subscription service and enabled eFiling of proposed orders and judgments. We’ve heard from many lawyers these new services are valuable to them, and we hope they are to you, too.
Why eFiling, and Why Mandatory?
One of the fundamental concepts of the Oregon eCourt vision is to expand access to the courts. Electronic services such as ePayment and eFiling allow people to do business with the courts from any place with an Internet connection, at any hour of the day or night. In addition to the convenience factor for court users and reducing lines at courthouse windows, having those processes automated makes court staff more available to help people and allows them to perform more significant functions instead of scanning and data entry.
The direct benefits to bar members include enhanced reporting and financial reconciliation, reducing the time it takes to file documents, fewer trips to the courthouse, real-time access to file-stamped copies of your court documents, and 24-hour online access to eFiling and many court documents.
Members of the public are leading the way in catching on to the convenience features of Oregon eCourt. In July, more than 20 percent of OJD’s receipts were made via OJD Courts ePay. In contrast, less than 5 percent of all filings in the 11 OECI courts were made by eFiling. Opening eFiling in Multnomah County helped this — OJD went from about 1,800 eFilings in June to more than 4,300 in July.
We are continuing to refine our policies and procedures, train employees and make technical adjustments to reduce the rate of rejected eFilings, which currently is about 6 percent. Having consistent practices among our courts will make it easier for attorneys who practice in multiple jurisdictions.
As we continue implementing Oregon eCourt around the state, eFiling will be available on a permissive basis 30 business days after a court goes live with the OECI system. Mandatory eFiling will begin 30 business days after permissive eFiling is available, or about 12 weeks after the OECI “go-live” date. OJD will post the precise eFiling dates on our website. Each court using the OECI system will have a kiosk available at the courthouse to allow onsite eFiling. The next courts to go live with OECI will be Marion, Douglas and Josephine counties on Dec. 8.
Not all documents are subject to the mandatory eFiling requirement. The exceptions are listed in UTCR 21.070(3), and include initiating documents in criminal and juvenile delinquency cases. We are working toward having the ability to eFile initiating documents in criminal and juvenile delinquency cases but do not have a projected timeline yet.
Most attorneys practicing in Oregon’s appellate courts are familiar with eFiling procedures there, and OJD will be adopting rules making appellate court eFiling mandatory in the Spring 2015. Additional details will be posted as they become available, including proposed changes to the Oregon Rules of Appellate Procedure.
The Judicial Department, after consultation with the Oregon State Bar and attorneys across the state, has proposed changes to several Uniform Trial Court Rules to implement mandatory eFiling. In addition to rule changes establishing formatting and other technical requirements, OJD is proposing to amend UTCR 21.120 to reduce the requirement to retain hard copies of documents containing an original signature of a person other than the filer from 10 years to 30 days. To see the proposed rules and submit comments, go to http://courts.oregon.gov/OJD/programs/utcr/pages/utcrrules.aspx
Based on input from courts and attorneys, proposed changes to UTCR 21.040 would require documents having attachments (such as exhibits or affidavits) to be consolidated into a single PDF file and eFiled in one “envelope.” The proposed rule would require confidential documents or documents requiring court signatures, such as proposed orders or judgments, to be eFiled as separate documents, but still within the same filing envelope. The proposed rule also establishes formatting standards for documents requiring a court signature.
Mandatory eFiling will be implemented by the adoption of a new rule — UTCR 21.140 — which also will authorize limited waivers from that requirement. Petitions for waivers from the eFiling requirement must be submitted conventionally under proposed changes to UTCR 21.070. Filings made when the eFiling system is unavailable may be related back to the date of the attempted filing, under proposed changes to UTCR 21.080.
By the time you read this, public comment on the proposed rule changes will have closed. We hope to have the new rules adopted in October — well in advance of the Dec. 1 implementation of mandatory eFiling.
Training and Other Resources
The first stop for attorneys looking for information about eFiling (or really anything relating to Oregon eCourt) should be the OJD website. The “Attorneys” home page links you not only to eFiling information but also ePay and other online services, court calendars and rules and the latest news. http://courts.oregon.gov/OJD/pages/attorney.aspx
The OJD eFiling page — linked on the Attorneys home page — has information on eFiling rules, system and software requirements, how to register for eFiling, Frequently Asked Questions (a generic document from the vendor and an Oregon-specific document about mandatory eFiling) and a User Guide. http://courts.oregon.gov/OJD/OnlineServices/OJDeFiling/Pages/index.aspx
Posters will be going up in courthouses across the state starting this month, to help keep eFiling in the front of people’s minds.
The primary venue for eFiling training will be webinars provided by Oregon’s vendor, Tyler Technologies. More than 40 webinar trainings have been scheduled, and CLE credit has been approved for some of the sessions. To look at dates, identify the webinars certified for CLE credit, and to register, visit http://www.tylertech.com/news-events/tyler-events/client-training/odyssey-file-serve-online-training. The bar also will be providing additional information about eFiling.
As with any new system, there will be a period of transition involved for both the bar and the courts as we implement and institutionalize mandatory eFiling. The Oregon State Bar and its individual members have been immensely helpful as we have moved ahead with the Oregon eCourt Program, and I appreciate the problem-solving attitude and patience of Oregon lawyers as we take this next step.
When I discuss eFiling with my chief justice colleagues nationwide, I hear about very positive reactions, both from the courts and the bar, once the changeovers have been completed and practitioners get acclimated to the new systems. I have every confidence this will be the case in Oregon as well. But, in the meantime, I strongly encourage bar members to review the final eFiling rules, register to use the eFiling system, get trained early — and start using the eFiling system before Dec. 1. Taking action early will help make this a smooth transition for courts and attorneys.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Balmer is chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.