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Florida Bar and Judiciary Debate Merits of eService Before eFiling in Criminal Cases


You know, a lot of things in life come down to the cart and the horse. Which goes first?

There's lively debate taking place in Florida and it made its way to the Supreme Court in June. The question is whether eService should be required before mandatory electronic filing (eFiling) is implemented for criminal cases. An article posted on the Florida Bar website explained both sides of the issue.

"Email service can be implemented with very little, if any, substantial change in capital expenditures, in training, or in anything else," said Paul Regensdorf, a member of the Rules of Judicial Administration Committee and the Florida Courts Technology Commission. "Respectfully, email service, as it's presently proposed, is not a 'new' system. I think the vast majority of even small practitioners and public defenders - based on my talking with public defenders around the state - have and use email and computers substantially in their practice, if not exclusively."

"It's taking email that they use every day, and computers that they use to generate the forms they say they generate every day, and simply not dumping them onto extra paper to send to the state attorneys," added Regensdorf.

Attorneys and the Florida Public Defenders Association (FPDA) have their concerns, however.

Sarasota County Court resized 600

Sarasota County Court Tower Photo Credit: Scilit

Sarasota lawyer Kurt Lee expressed concerns about the reliability of email, particularly when large files are involved. Lynn Rhodes, a sole practitioner who appeared on behalf of indigent clients, has concerns about access.

"There are issues out there that are causing real problems in the trenches when we say, 'Okay, everybody can have eFiling; everybody has a computer; everybody has access to the Internet; it's no problem for people to go and view their case online, when it is," said Rhodes.

11th Circuit Assistant Public Defender John Morrison, says it is less an issue of access and more of an issue of timing.

"The FPDA does not oppose eFiling," said Morrison, speaking on behalf of the FPDA. "We're wildly looking forward to the day that happens. What we oppose is the tail wagging the dog: eService coming before eFiling."

Morrison described the current state of technology at his own offices in Miami-Dade as "1983 technology."

"I'm not certain...whether there is any circuit in the state that is ready to do eFiling in criminal cases," added Morrison. "It seems so simple. You print off a document, why can't you just email it to the state? It's when you start thinking about the total volume, the batching, we just have to do this by huge batches, and that requires big computer systems, and we would ask the court that we only make the taxpayers do this once."

One thing this debate illustrates is just how cautious some in the legal profession are of technology. That's not meant as criticism. It's just a reality check for all of us. Here we are blogging and sharing and posting and linking. Elsewhere, there are those who are discussing the viability of email for legal documents. For those of us who are based a short drive from the Googles and Intels of the world, that's food for thought.


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