Supreme Court OKs new e-business standards; Madison County likely to save thousands in paper costs

By Bethany Krajelis | Oct 25, 2012

The clerks offices in Madison and St. Clair counties will likely have a lot more shelf space next year.

Thanks to an administrative order issued today by the Illinois Supreme Court, circuit courts throughout the state will be able to make their electronic records the official court records, a move that will drastically decrease the use and storage of paper documents.

In addition, the court today ended its pilot project phase of electronic filing by opening up the process to all Illinois courts. The pilot project, which began as early as 2003, only allowed five counties -- Cook, DuPage, Madison, St. Clair and Will—to operate e-filing systems.

Both changes take effect Jan. 1, 2013 and require the high court’s approval. Counties currently participating in the e-filing pilot project, however, can continue their operations while they make sure their procedures meet the new standards.

The justices also amended a pair of Supreme Court rules and adopted a new one to accompany the new electronic standards and better protect litigants’ personal information. All three take effect on Jan. 1.

Amended Rules 201 and 11, respectively, prevent discovery from being filed and require attorneys and parties to provide their email addresses on pleadings they file so they can be served electronically. New Rule 138 defines and bans personal identity information from being included in documents.

Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride said in a statement that the new standards and rules finally take statewide e-filing standards off the court’s “wish list.”

Kilbride, who has made improving the court’s technology a priority of
his term as chief justice, said the new e-business standards will provide courts with “greater efficiencies and long-range cost savings in addition to offering a modern way of doing things.”

Madison County Circuit Clerk Judy Nelson said she couldn’t be happier about the upcoming changes and expects attorneys will be pleased as well.

She said once all of the changes are implemented, images of all case documents will be available online to attorneys. Currently, she said, they can only see case docket entries online.

While the e-filing option won’t necessarily change much in Madison County because it has been a part of the pilot project, Nelson said being able to make the electronic record the official court record will make a huge difference in her office.

In August, Nelson and St. Clair Circuit Clerk Kahala Dixon told The Record that both of their offices were running out of space to store documents while they waited the required amount of time before obtaining a destruction order.

Nelson, who today described her space situation as “desperate,” said being able to use the electronic record as the official court record will cut down on paper costs and employee time while alleviating the space crunch.

She said the clerk’s office will probably save about $30,000 in paper costs and free up the time of at least two employees.

On top of that, Nelson said it will be more convenient for everyone.

For instance, if someone asks for a certain record, she said the new standard would let her employees look it up in a computer system rather than having to hunt for it in the basement.

“This is going to save so much time,” she said, explaining that if the high court gives her office the thumbs up on electronic records, it can “shift our attention and resources to getting old cases digitized and off the shelves.”

Obviously, Nelson said, there are certain records, such as wills, that will never go paperless.

Nelson said she plans to get a proposal together within the next month or two, but expects to wait to submit it to the court until the winner of the circuit clerk race takes over so that person’s name can be on it.

Nelson took over as interim clerk after Matt Melucci died in May. She was appointed to the position in June, but is not seeking election to the position.

Democrat Mark von Nida and Republican John Barberis Jr. are vying for the spot in next month’s election.

The changes announced this week came as the result of the Illinois Supreme Court Special E-Business Committee, which the court created last summer. Chicago attorney Bruce Pfaff chaired the committee.

Rebecca Jackson, an attorney at Bryan Cave in Edwardsville, was a member of the committee, which she described as “the most effective, well-organized committees I have ever sat on,”

The new standards and rules, Jackson said, are “going to move the court forward significantly” when it comes to technology.

“I hope a lot of circuit clerks will take advantage of this opportunity. It’s a difficult process at the beginning, but it’s got to be done,” she said, adding that Nelson gave a presentation to the committee that was “tremendous helpful.”

There were, however, a lot of challenges the committee had to work through, including the difficulty in trying to come up with workable standards for 102 different counties.

Although the committee couldn’t come up with uniform, statewide standards, Jackson said she believes the new standards provide guidance to circuit courts while giving them freedom to choose their own vendors and systems as long as they meet certain guidelines.

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