SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - An across-the-board electronic filing mandate takes effect today in San Francisco Superior Court, accompanied by controversy and litigation over the power of a single private vendor to control the court's electronic gateway.
The only private vendor currently able to file directly into the court's electronic file manager - the e-gateway into the court - is File & ServeXpress which holds a hand-me-down contract from Lexis Nexis.
As of today, lawyers must file all civil unlimited papers, after the initial complaint, directly through FSX or indirectly through three "third party filers." Those third party filers had to be approved by FSX, must file through FSX, and must pay for the privilege.
As a result, FSX is the only private outfit that can retail the filing service and it is also the only outfit that can wholesale it. That combination gives it practical control of the gateway.
The market for e-filing in San Francisco, greatly expanded by today's mandate, represents a big pot of money. It is worth roughly $8 million to $10 million a year.
The court has belatedly set up its own e-filing portal to comply with California statutes designed to avoid monopoly control by one private vendor. But the public court inexplicably charges a substantially higher price than the private vendor, making the court portal unlikely to be used.
On that court-run e-filing portal, the posted phone number takes a caller to a receptionist for a company called Imagex, which appears to be primarily a document scanning operation. In response to a question about who designed the portal, the receptionist took a message, which has not been answered.
A December document request from Courthouse News along the same lines has not yet been answered by court officials.
The San Francisco court's arrangement favors one private vendor to such an extent that a competitor took the rare step last week of filing a petition in the California Court of Appeal, seeking an injunction against e-filing expansion until San Francisco Superior complies with California statutes seeking to prevent monopolies.
The petition written by Gary Watt, Jeffrey Hamerling, Robin Chang and Tiffany Gates with Archer Norris in Walnut Creek was made on behalf of One Legal, an attorney service that files in every court in California and has e-filing contracts in Orange County and San Diego.
The petition says the San Francisco court stalled in providing specifications that would allow One Legal to use the e-filing gateway, and is still stalling. Watt argues that through its actions, amplified by its public endorsements, the court has granted a monopoly to Lexis-Nexis's successor.
FSX has taken full advantage of its dominant position by sending publicity emails to recruit lawyers practicing in the court. And the private vendor, says the petition, bolstered its position by refusing to provide service lists to competitors -- or even to the court.
The court has also enforced an unusual condition imposed by the private vendor on the third party filers using its portal, a condition that locks out One Legal or any other big competitor.