California Council OK’s $6.9 Million for Tech and Plans for Multiple E-File Managers

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) California’s Judicial Council has OK’d requests from 11 trial courts to hold $6.9 million out of the upcoming California court budget to pay for e-filing software. At its business meeting Friday, the council also approved a highly unusual plan for multiple, statewide, e-file management systems in order to promote competition.
     While the variations in e-filing set-ups are great, it is common to allow individual local courts or the state as a whole to put in place a single e-file manager.
     The structure approved by the council on Friday is unique in that it calls for statewide approval of multiple e-file management systems, and would allow local courts to accept e-filings through more than one e-file manager.
     The holding of funds, or set aside, from the upcoming budget is a strategy prompted by a mandate from Gov. Jerry Brown, restricting the size of the rainy day funds that individual trial courts could maintain. They currently cannot keep more than one percent of their yearly budget as a reserve.
     So in April the council created an application process where courts can request that the council set aside some of their 2016-17 budget allocation for future projects.
     A related bill is moving through the California Legislature that would do away with the one percent limit and allow local courts to hold larger amounts in reserve. The state Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on that bill Thursday.
     In the meantime, 11 courts had asked the council to hold about $6.9 million, with most of them planning to use that money to pay for new e-filing software. Many had already signed contracts with Tyler Technologies for its Odyssey case management system and need the funds to complete installation.
     The council voted unanimously to approve set sides of $1.4 million for the courts in Sacramento, $895,000 for Kern, $830,000 for Sonoma, $775,000 for Orange, $476,000 for Sutter, $306,000 for Merced, $228,000 for Napa, $264,000 for Sutter, $90,000 for Glenn, $89,000 for Lake and $51,900 for Monterey.
     “We were careful not to rubber stamp the requests, but the requests were generally all related to ongoing funds used for implementation of case management systems and other existing contractual obligations. This is a very useful tool to those courts to allow them to both maintain funds and plan for those obligations,” said Judge Jonathan Conklin who chairs the council’s budget advisory committee for trial court funds.
     The council also voted unanimously to approve electronic-filing policies designed to promote competition among software vendors seeking to profit from California’s court technology gold rush. Competing vendors have complained that Texas-based Tyler Technologies is gaining a near-monopoly on California e-filing and with that power has been able to extract higher amounts for service and credit fees.
     Snorri Ogata, the chief information officer for L.A. Superior, and the former chief information officer for Orange County Superior, said the council’s information technology advisory committee will put out a request for proposals for e-file management software that can interact with a variety of case management systems.
     Ogata is a member of that committee and also heads a consortium of local court technology officers who have developed a model agreement for software vendors.
     The federal courts have developed their own e-filing system, and various state courts, including those in Iowa and Missouri, have also developed home-grown e-filing systems. More commonly, state courts have paid millions of dollars to private vendors to install and maintain e-filing software. Throughout the nation, Tyler is the dominant e-filing vendor.
     While the e-filing terminology can be confusing, the various pieces of software in fact have roles that almost perfectly parallel the roles of human clerks in the traditional filing of paper documents such as new civil complaints.
     Paper filing traditionally requires a runner to deliver a new complaint to the clerk’s counter at the courthouse. A counter clerk then takes in the filing, date-stamps it, checks to see the proper filing fee has been attached and gives a receipt. Docketing clerks then docket the new filings and put them in file folders.
     E-filing mimics that long-established system. The e-file service provider is like the runner, delivering the e-filing to the court. The e-file manager is like the counter clerk, taking in the e-filing and issuing a receipt. The cases management software acts like the docketing clerk, putting the filing into the local court’s system for managing cases.
     The federal courts and a number of state courts bring new cases automatically into the case management system, without human intervention. Other state courts require that a human clerk act as the bridge between the e-file manager and the case management system, by reviewing and processing the new filings.
     In speaking to the council, information officer Ogata noted that like Texas, California has opted for a vendor-driven system. But in a key difference, California will allow for multiple e-filing managers.
     “In some instances, the e-filing manager was also the state’s largest case management system vendor and it started to create a controlled almost monopolistic environment that we did not think was in the best interest of our constituents,” Ogata said. “When we examined the share size of the California market it was apparent that there was going to be sufficient market share in the environment to be attractive for multiple e-filing managers.”
     “So that is probably the most controversial recommendation that we are bringing forward because it is inconsistent with any other state, and we will be the first ones planning to do this,” he said.
     States such as Texas, Illinois and Indiana use a single statewide e-file manager. The state of Texas, for example, has agreed to pay Tyler $72 million over four years to manage all e-filings in Texas but the individual trial courts in Texas can choose their own case management system.
     Although most Texas courts have chosen the Odyssey case management system from Tyler.
     The California model is quite different, calling for multiple e-file managers that can handle e-filing in any local court and any case management system in California.
     Ogata said the new plan will require that all e-filing managers support all case types and work with all electronic filing service providers the couriers that gather the electronic documents and money to initiate the e-filing.
     The requests for proposals to the various e-file management vendor would also require free e-filing for the poor and for government filers.

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