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Paper Graveyard

Paper Graveyard

What a difference a day makes

First-of-year change to electronic court filings clears a veritable forest of legal paper

E-filing court documents in Collin County is here to stay, and while it’s not that visible a change for the general public, it’s made quite an impact behind the scenes. 

Beginning on Jan. 1, all Civil, Family and Probate case filings had to be filed electronically. The change affected all levels of our county’s court system -- Justice Courts, County Courts at Law, Probate Court and District Courts.

District Clerk Andrea Thompson’s staff previously scanned about 1.7 million pages a year of legal filings in the nine state District Courts alone that, if laid end-to-end, would have stretched some 25 miles beyond the average orbit of the international space station.

That paper ended up in more than 600 boxes of records that had to be stacked and stored after scanning. 

With the vast majority of documents now arriving in digital form, the District Clerks estimate only about 24 storage boxes will be needed for paper records. That’s a 96-percent drop, one 11-by-14-inch sheet at a time. Tucked back behind the service counters, the shelf space used for January’s paper filings is practically barren compared to previous months.

While the e-file requirement still allows for pro se filers (folks acting as their own attorneys in legal matters) to file paper, attorneys now have to set up accounts with service providers who act as a sort of digital clearinghouse for filing documents with the clerks.

Criminal case filings will eventually go electronic, too, though the District Clerk’s civil caseload is typically larger and involves more motions and filings than most criminal cases.

Similar results are coming into the County Court at Law Clerks, although caseloads weigh more toward criminal misdemeanor cases than civil matters. Nonetheless, civil cases and Probate can easily pull in close to a quarter-million pieces a paper a year.

As for the county’s five Justice Courts, e-filing isn’t mandatory and only one is set up for e-filing so far, with plans in the coming months to fold in the remaining four. But clerks there are also seeing digital filing increases for credit card debt claims and evictions, as attorneys already transitioning to digital filing in other courts are using the same method.

The roots of e-filing here actually go back a few years. As early as 2005, attorneys had the option of filing electronically. But in December 2012, the Texas Supreme Court mandated e-filing in civil matters. The first group of 10 urban counties – including Collin -- were required to go digital on Jan. 1.

The Texas Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals and 14 regional Courts of Appeal scattered across the state also switched to e-filing. It will take another two years to implement the program across the remainder of Texas’ 254 counties.

Meanwhile, back behind the District Clerk’s counters, the staff erected a paper graveyard with headstones fashioned from old paper storage boxes to mark the change.

 

 

 

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