Pennsylvania's top court to permit e-filing

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court took the next step into the information this month when electronic filing became an option.

The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts plans to make e-filing an option for cases in the intermediate appellate courts -- the Superior and Commonwealth courts -- sometime in 2013, said Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, the liaison justice for technology in the Pennsylvania courts.

One of the biggest changes with e-filing in the Supreme Court is that parties can now file at any time of day.

The courthouse will be open virtually 24 hours a day, Justice Eakin said, and the general rule is that electronic filings will be considered received on time as long as they are e-filed by 11:59 p.m. on the day on which they need to be received.

"So far as filing date, it's when the button is pushed in the lawyer's office," Justice Eakin said. "That's almost instantaneous."

Charles "Chip" Becker, an appellate attorney with plaintiffs firm Kline & Specter, said that with e-filing, lawyers will no longer face having to truncate the time they spend preparing their filings in order to make sure they leave enough time for their filings to be received physically by the appellate court prothonotaries before filing deadlines expire.

"It's much easier to effectuate filing through an electronic system than if I have to deal with all the logistics of filing papers in a physical office," said Mr. Becker, who was one of the attorneys who tested the e-filing system during its beta phase.

E-filing also could improve the transmission of trial court records, Mr. Becker said, because sometimes not everything from lower courts gets transferred to the appellate courts.

Karl Baker, the chief of the Defender Association of Philadelphia's appellate unit, said that as his unit tested e-filing during its experimental stage, it has seen its expenses in paper supplies and running copiers reduced as well as the unit's workload in serving filings reduced.

"It has saved us a lot of footwork and production for both what gets filed and what gets served," Mr. Baker said.

E-filers are still being required to submit one hard copy of any of their filings. Justice Eakin said that is being required because when the Supreme Court justices travel for oral argument sessions, it is hard to pack up dozens of briefs, and the hard copies will be available as a resource for the prothonotaries to provide briefs for the justices when sitting on the bench.

Joseph A. Del Sole, chair of the Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee's group working on e-filing and a former Superior Court judge, said some lawyers interviewed about e-filing in their jurisdictions were not happy with their systems. The attorneys were concerned that their filings might be considered untimely if the electronic copies were received by court clerks but hard copies were not received, or if hard copies were received but the electronic copies were somehow delayed, Mr. Del Sole said.

There are "a lot of little details that lawyers are always concerned about," he said.

While the new system will likely reduce the post office and messenger service bills for parties, the court will likely face more costs in paper toner and clerical time to print out filings at their end, Justice Eakin said. The court may assess an extra charge for e-filing depending upon what those costs turn out to be because "we don't want to cost the taxpayer more" for costs that used to be borne by litigants," he said.

Redaction of sensitive information will not be addressed until later and documents will not be available to the public on the Web until the second phase of e-filing, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

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Amaris Elliott-Engel: aelliott-engel@alm.com or 215-557-2354. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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