Staff members working on an e-filing conversion project in St. Clair County's Circuit Clerk office celebrated the first success today with sparkling cider.
"This is a big piece of the bridge we've been building from the paper world to the digital world for our local justice system," said Circuit Clerk Brendan Kelly.
Kelly said today's first e-filing case number was 10-CH-1435, filed by the Chicago-area firm Fisher and Shapiro.
Glasses of sparkling cider marked the occasion in lieu of champagne, he said.
St. Clair County is the fifth county of Illinois' 102 to be approved by the Illinois Supreme Court to provide electronic filing of court documents.
According to Kelly, the e-filing process will be phased in over several months starting with chancery cases, which are typically foreclosure caess. He said that gradually the process will expand to all non-criminal case types.
Law division cases will be next, Kelly said.
Kelly said he began with CH cases because of a substantial increase in mortgage foreclosures, which in turn has created a heavy workload for clerks handling those cases.
"We began scanning all civil documents into a digital format at the beginning of this year, but the size of CH cases is pretty overwhelming when it comes to the scanning process," Kelly said.
"Filing CH cases electronically will really help ease that scanning burden."
E-filed documents are not scanned, but simply transferred electronically by the clerk into a digital file.
Training for attorneys and paralegals wishing to utilize electronic filing will be held Dec. 8, from 11 a.m. to noon, in the St. Clair County Board Room. The training is sponsored in part by the St. Clair County Bar Association so attorneys could receive one hour of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit. The training will be free of charge. Local rules for e-filing will be available for distribution at that time.
Kelly said there will be no extra charge for e-filing beyond the current filing fees, but attorney suspense accounts are required for an attorney or firm to electronically file a document which has a statutory filing fee.
Filing fees will be deducted from these accounts as documents are e-filed, he said.
Government agencies exempt from filing fees will not be required to have suspense accounts.
Documents without a filing fee can be filed electronically without a suspense account.
A letter has gone out to attorneys explaining how they can submit a letter of intent to participate to deputy clerk Jean Brown, who will provide users with subsequent information and instructions about setting up an account, Kelly said.
Attorneys and firms will be required to maintain sufficient funds in suspense accounts which can be monitored on the circuit clerk's website using an assigned password.
E-filing is not mandatory as is the case in the federal system, Kelly said.
The St. Clair County Circuit Clerk's e-filing system utilizes i2file, a web-based service in use in DuPage, McHenry and Will counties in Illinois.
Attorneys and paralegals can go to www.i2file.net to see the attorney registration process and a user manual.