Though a little late to the game, Washington courts are going digital.
The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) will soon begin rolling out a new electronic system for case management and electronic filing (e-filing) for Washington’s district and municipal courts and probation offices. The AOC is trying to spread the word about the e-filing component of its Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Case Management System (CLJ-CMS) project, also known as Odyssey File & Serve (OFS).
Court officials recently launched an informational campaign to prepare legal officials for the technological shift, which is scheduled to begin in late summer with a phased rollout across six regions, and one pilot project.
“The project originally dates back to about 2014,” said Jennifer Wagner, organizational change management coordinator with the AOC. The state’s current case management system, however, has been in use since 1987—so old that it can be difficult for the AOC to find programmers who both understand it and are still alive.
“It’s a change but it’s a modernization that’s really kind of overdue for our courts,” Wagner said.
Washington courts received Legislature approval to update the system and implement e-filing statewide, but did not receive additional funding for the project. Once the project is fully implemented, electronic filings at courts of limited jurisdiction will come with a $5 flat fee per filing. There will be an additional 25 cent electronic check fee, for those courts that choose to accept e-checks, or a credit card charge of 2.89 percent or $1, whichever is higher.
To help prep the legal community, the AOC is hosting a series of information sessions, the next of which is scheduled for March 17, with another four scheduled through April 2. At one recent session, Whitman County District Court Judge John Hart pointed out that nearly all 50 states have some version of e-filing and it “will soon become the new normal.”
In the Northwest, Oregon courts began mandatory e-filing in 2015 and Idaho implemented its own system between 2016 and 2018. As a non-unified court system, some local courts in Washington have already switched to mandatory e-filing. Now the practice will become standard across all courts of limited jurisdiction, which according to the AOC process 2 million cases per year and account for about 87 percent of the state’s judicial caseload.
The phased implementation is scheduled to include a one-month buffer between the time it goes live in each county and when it comes mandatory.
- Pilot—goes live June 7, mandatory for attorneys Sept. 5: Pierce District, Tacoma Municipal, Gig Harbor Municipal, and Fircrest/Ruston Municipal.
- Phase 1—live Aug. 9, mandatory Sept. 8: Adams, Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman.
- Phase 2—live Aug. 23, mandatory Sept. 22: Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom.
- Phase 3—live Sept. 7, mandatory Oct. 7: Chelan, Douglas, King Municipals, Kittitas, and Okanogan.
- Phase 4—live Sept. 20, mandatory Oct. 20: Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, and Thurston.
- Phase 5—live Oct. 4, mandatory Nov. 3: Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania, and Wahkiakum.
- Phase 6—live Oct. 18, mandatory Nov. 17: Klickitat, remainder of Pierce Municipals, and Yakima.
Wagner said the biggest challenge right now has been getting the necessary details out to attorneys. In addition to the information sessions, those who want to stay up to date can sign up for an email list by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. The state’s vendor, Tyler Technologies, has also secured a website to post new information (efile.courts.wa.gov), but as of this writing the page wasn’t live. Attorneys are also encouraged to brush up on General Rule 30 regarding electronic filing and service.
Mark Fucile, a frequent contributor to NWSidebar and Bar News on legal ethics issues, is a member of both the Washington and Oregon bars and said, “I think e-filing is great and is a really convenient practice tool once lawyers get used to it.” He had a few words of caution for Washington legal professionals unaccustomed to e-filing: Most importantly, that they know the filing deadline, as well as understanding how to e-file themselves and not only rely on office assistants.