Going Green – Missouri Courts Electronic Filing System

by Mary Hodges

It has been one month since the Missouri Supreme Court began its pilot for electronic filing. St. Charles County courts also volunteered to take part in the e-filing test run.

The click of a mouse now eliminates the process of hand delivering the documents to the courthouse, the clerk file-stamping the document, and then physically adding the document to the file folder. It also frees up hours of the court clerk’s time. Currently, when there are cases on the Judge’s docket for the day, his clerk must locate and pull the files, place them in large carts and wheel them to his chambers. This process is repeated when the Judge is done with the file and needs to return it to its proper location.

The initial worry in large overhauls such as this is cost. However, as technology continues to expand, costs of storage declines. For instance, in the early 1990’s, Los Angeles implemented a traffic ticket imaging system where only 10 gigabytes of storage costs $1.5 million dollars. Now it is common for people to have that level of storage on their cell phones. A study conducted in Arizona determined that every state court file could be stored on 2.5 terabyte hard drive (one terabyte is equivalent to 1024 gigabytes). Today, this amount of storage only costs consumers around $200.00. Imagine what 2.5 terabytes would have cost in the 1990’s!

Electronic filing also frees up filing storage space in the courthouse. Several floors of the St. Charles County Courthouse have shelving for files dating back to 2003. Older files are stored in the basement. With paper files, there is always a risk that a natural disaster such as a fire or flooding can destroy these files. However, with electronic filing, the concern is more about security. That is why pilots and test runs, such as the one being implemented by the Missouri Supreme Court and St. Charles County are important. Any glitches in the system need to be ironed out before the system expands across the state.

Time limits for filing are also expanded with electronic filing. Instead of the attorney being required to file the document before the court closes, he or she will now have until 11:59 p.m. on the last day of filing. I’m not sure whether this is actually good or bad news for attorneys – probably a little of both. On the one hand, attorneys are not restricted by courthouse hours of operation. On the other hand, now attorneys have longer hours of operation, at least on the last day allowed for filing.

As the first month for electronic filing has passed, many attorneys around Missouri are probably wondering when the day will come that every case can be filed with the click of the mouse, and offices can save on paper, ink, envelopes and stamps since they will no longer be required to mail each and every document to all parties involved. Electronic filing essentially saves time, and after all, time is money.