Challenges ahead with transition to statewide court e-filing, especially with 'eye-popping' number of asbestos cases

By John Breslin | Apr 20, 2018

Madison County's Circuit Clerk will not receive any additional funding in his budget to manage the challenge of abiding by an Illinois Supreme Court ruling that all counties must feed filings into a statewide system by July 1.

And with an "eye-popping" volume of asbestos cases filed in Madison County, savings that had been planned when the county first began e-filing years ago will not be realized for a while because more staff will be needed to conform to the state's new e-filing system - E-file Illinois, according to Clerk Mark von Nida.

Von Nida said Madison County's existing filing system is customized and many new tasks associated with E-file Illinois - which will become the single provider for every court in the state - will have to be done manually by staff to comply with its requirements.

Pointing to the court's tremendous number of asbestos filings, von Nida said managing the transition presents challenges.

"It is eye popping, not so much the number of cases, but the sheer number of people associated with each case," he said. "That means an outsize number of filings."

There are 1,200 to 1,300 new asbestos cases filed per year, and each case averages 72 defendants, which translates to some 93,000 filings immediately.

Von Nida said he will have to double the number of staff working full time on asbestos cases, from three to six. This is the same number dealing with felony cases, he said.

"My job is not to have any opinion, just simply to keep the records and manage the records as they flow into and out of the court," he said.

In a recent presentation to the County Board Judiciary Committee, von Nida told members of the challenges of migrating from the court's customized system to the statewide one.

His office worked with experts on a "gap analysis on the functionality of the system we have currently and what we will have with our statewide system," he said.

That analysis threw up "18 pages of tasks that will not be automated," meaning a staff member has to get into the system to do, for example, anything from reading and categorizing a file to a few simple key strokes.

"We are going to have to manage, put more people on tasks, more people doing more work," von Nida said, adding that over time some of those tasks will be eliminated, but for some there will always be that gap.

He reported to the committee that those long term plans to save money will not be met, that the county should expect to "slow down those expectations." He does not, however, expect an increase in his budget.

"The last thing in the world we would want to do is be critical of the Supreme Court...just reporting to them we would be using more people in the interim to handle the change," Von Nida said.

In spite of its particular challenges, Madison County is in a better position than many of the state's 100-plus counties, some of which are making "a giant leap forward" when it comes to e-filing, von Nida said. "It is nothing new to us," he added.

And he also believes there will be many benefits, particularly for attorneys, but also judges, journalists as they can take advantage of a one stop information shop. . 

Currently, there are 72 different case types that flow into the county’s court management system. The .

new state-wide system will reduce those case types to just 12, Von Nida said. 

"I think there is a pot of gold at the end of rainbow, savings will be realized but will not happen immediately." von Nida said.

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