December 24, 2012

Texas Supreme Court orders electronic filing in civil cases

The Texas Supreme Court has ordered that civil cases — including family, probate, county at-law and district courts — be filed uniformly and electronically in the near future.

The edict affects cases in large metropolitan areas and appellate courts starting Jan. 1, 2014. Cases filed in the state’s smallest jurisdictions must comply two years later.

The new system will lower filing and processing costs for the courts and for the litigants. But more important, it adds transparency in the ability to access court documents remotely at any time.

“Mandatory e-filing in civil cases will promote the efficient and uniform administration of justice in Texas courts,” the justices said in the order. “Without a centralized and uniformed portal for accessing court case information, the advantages of filing electronically are greatly diminished.”

The court, in its order issued Thursday, specifically stated that, “Attorneys must not file documents through any alternative electronic document filing transmission system (including fax filing), except in the event of emergency.”

Individuals filing on their own behalf without the help of an attorney can also file electronically but are not required to do so.

Already, the state Supreme Court and four courts of appeal have mandatory electronic filing. Five additional courts of appeal offer the option of e-filing, while 236 district courts and 81 county at-law courts have electronic filing as an alternative.

The justices point out in the order that while most courts have some sort of e-filing, the systems vary widely.

“I think everybody will eventually be happy because lawyers will be able to push a button and file, just like in federal court,” says Justice Nathan Hecht.

Hecht says there are two methods of potentially paying for the e-filing system. The first is the “toll road model,” which charges a fee every time a new document is filed. The second method is to have the Legislature allow the courts to file a one-time e-filing fee per case, similar to the Pacer system in federal court.


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