Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

The Art of eFiling

His anxiety never reached panic level, but Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor Daniel T. Van sweated through some close calls when filing paper documents with the Ohio Supreme Court.

“Prior to electronic filing, there have been times in which I had to drive to Columbus to file a document or rely upon the assistance of colleagues in Columbus to file a document in order to meet a deadline,” Van explained.

Although he was close, he never missed a deadline. But the time and money spent on making copies and taking them up to the 8th floor Clerk of Court’s office was a lot of work and worry.

“Our staff understood the Court’s filing requirements and would have to work diligently to ensure that briefs were properly formatted with enough lead time to ensure that the appropriate number of copies (such as 16 copies for a merit brief) were made and timely delivered and filed with the Clerk of Court. We would have to track our filings to ensure that the clerk received our briefs by the filing deadline,” Van said.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office was fortunate in its ability to meet the deadlines. Other attorneys weren’t so lucky.

“It would be not uncommon for it to be at the end of the day and we would get a call saying, ‘I’m in Mansfield and I’m going as quickly as I can,’” said Steve Kahler, with the Supreme Court’s Clerk’s office. “Or to unfortunately not make it in time and to be waiting at security at 5 p.m. when we closed.”

All that drama began to fade away in January 2015 when attorneys were able to file documents electronically. That means doing away with the endless paper copies and binders and replacing them with a fixed digital format. Two years later, it’s considered a tremendous success, with more than 74 percent of all attorney filings performed electronically.

“It’s going great. We have had a lot of really good feedback. We hear our system is very user friendly, very intuitive, and people like it,” said Sandra Grosko, the clerk of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The History of e-Filing
The Ohio Supreme Court was in the middle of an e-filing sensation when conversions were instituted at state supreme courts.

“We were twenty-something among the courts of last resort, the supreme courts that started e-filing,” said Grosko.

Electronic filing started as the solution for one federal court’s crowded docket in the late 1990s. After being piloted by 31 courts in 2001, e-filing was implemented in every federal district court in the United States and in several federal courts of appeal.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision to use e-filing came on the heels of a working draft of Standards for Electronic Filing Processes in 2006.

In 2014, more than 85 Ohio lawyers who frequently file with the court participated in a three-month e-filing pilot program.

Cleveland Assistant Director of Law Linda Bickerstaff was one of them.

“E-filing has certainly placed me on equal footing with opposing counsel sometimes located in Columbus,” Bickerstaff said. “I am extremely pleased with the functionality of the e-filing system and its ease of use. Prior to e-filing, sizeable briefs, for example, had to be finalized a week in advance, not only to ensure timely delivery to the Court but in time to reproduce and bind the required number of copies to be filed as well. This meant, of course, that opposing counsel would receive an early copy of my brief allowing them more time to respond. The convenience of e-filing has made life far less stressful.”

Like many attorneys, Cleveland-based Paul Flowers was already using e-filing in the federal system and was relieved when the Ohio Supreme Court started its program. It eliminates the cost of making copies and binding filings.

“We have been using the federal filing system for about 20 years, and the Supreme Court’s system was well worth the wait,” Flowers said. “The system is extremely simple and straightforward. With the limited number of options you can select, it eliminates a lot of confusion over how the filing should be submitted.”

After the pilot program, e-filing for the Supreme Court was expanded to all registered lawyers in early 2015, and to pro se filers, those individuals who represent themselves, later in the year.

Forty percent of those who file with the Ohio Supreme are pro se filers and represent themselves. Sadly, only three percent of those filers take advantage of e-filing.

“I don’t think that people who represent themselves know that we have it,” said Kahler. “And there’s no way to individually get that word out. So when people call with other questions, we mention you can file this electronically and direct them to the place on the website where they can do that.”

Easy Access
To access the e-filing system, one needs to create an account with the Ohio Supreme Court’s e-Filing Portal. Attorneys can use their attorney registration number. Pro se filers can use an email address. From there, they choose the documents they want to file and start uploading them.

There are several guidelines for e-filing.

Filing documents does not alter deadlines imposed by the Rules of Practice of the Supreme Court of Ohio. Documents received after 5 p.m. Eastern Time through the e-Filing Portal will not be considered for filing until the next business day.

“Our filing deadline is 5 p.m. and that is the same for people coming into the office or e-filing. So you can file in the middle of the night, but the document won’t be considered for filing until the next filing day,” Grosko said.

“The most common issue is that the end of the filing date is at 5 o’clock and not 11:59 p.m. That’s something I wish everybody knew or would see in the rules before filing,” Kahler said.

Filers should allow sufficient time to set up account credentials and become familiar with the e-Filing Portal.

Items received through the portal will be reviewed in the order in which they are received by the Clerk’s Office. Due to high volume, review of documents for compliance with the Rules of Practice can take up to one business day.

“They can sit at their desk and they receive a response email back saying we received your document.” Grosko said. “One thing I want to point out is that it doesn’t mean your document has been filed. Because we have certain guidelines the court requires us to look for in our filings.  So once we file the document, we send a follow-up email saying now it’s been filed or it’s been rejected and here is why.”

So far, the biggest challenge in the program is when there is a technical issue on the user’s end.

“We always warn people to not wait until the last minute because things can happen. They can have a technical problem. So we say, ‘please don’t wait and think you are going to do it in five minutes,’” Grosko said.

Still, technical mistakes through electronic filing or e-filing are more easily fixed now than in the days before it was available.

“We have had instances in which, due to technical issues, a filing was rejected and we would have to scramble to correct any mistakes,” Van said. “This would involve either timely delivering of a new filing and copies to the Clerk’s office or correcting the filing and copies in person. Once, I had to disassemble several copies of a brief to correct a typographical error in a brief at the Clerk’s office and then re-staple all of the copies.”

In addition, use of the e-Filing Portal does not alter the filer’s obligation to serve the other parties to the case. 

The Art of Convenience
While federal courts make e-filing mandatory, the Ohio Supreme Court’s e-filing system is voluntary.

Attorneys like Van and others are quick to give feedback.

“From a professional standpoint, I appreciate the implementation of electronic filing,” he said. “The Ohio Supreme Court’s electronic filing system has made filing more convenient and has reduced costs associated with making copies and mailing. Electronic filing allows us to easily upload our completed work product in PDF format, and the system itself is user-friendly and straight-forward, and eliminates time restraints previously associated with delivery. The notification system provides peace of mind knowing when a brief has been accepted for filing.”