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Efficiency, access results of online filing system

Arthur Johnston

Arthur Johnston

Madison County Chancery Clerk Johnston, Supreme Court Justice Waller recently unveil new system

 

Better efficiency and improved public access to court records are the results of the Mississippi Electronic Courts’ (MEC’s) new online court filing system, which was officially unveiled Aug. 27 in a ceremony at the Mississippi Supreme Court building in Jackson.

“We are optimistic that this system will allow seamless access by attorneys and the public across the different jurisdictions of our state,” said Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. “When the public can see what we are doing in our courts, there is greater confidence in the judiciary.”   

Based on a federal program called PACER – Public Access to Court Electronic Records  – the electronic filing and case management system allows attorneys to file pleadings and retrieve documents via the Internet, making court records more accessible to the general public.

The system has been tested and refined in Madison County for nearly two years as part of a pilot project.  The Madison County Chancery Court began accepting electronic filings of court documents July 22.  Mandatory electronic filing goes into effect Sept. 15 for all new cases and for pleadings filed in cases begun on or after May 15, 2008.

Madison Chancery Clerk Arthur Johnston said that 215 attorneys have registered for the program and more that 2,000 documents are available online.  The initial filing of civil cases must still be done in person, but motions, orders and scheduling deadlines can now be accessed with just the click of a mouse.

The advantages of electronic filing are numerous, he said.

“It increases the public’s access to court records and allows judges greater access and control over their dockets,” said Johnston, who was elected in 2004. “(Mississippi Electronic Courts) is a really good tool to make the judicial process more streamlined.”

Documents are automatically docketed as part of the filing process and are immediately available electronically through user accounts.  It is expected that the system will provide a quicker and cheaper delivery of documents and allow for easier tracking of case activity.  Less space is necessary for records storage, officials said.

Clint Pentecost, counsel for the MEC project, said the initiation of lawsuits will continue to be done through paper filings.  The paperwork will then be scanned into an electronic document in the office of the clerk.  All subsequent documents in a case will be filed electronically.

There have been few complaints about the new system, said Johnston.

“The response has been overwhelming in favor of (electronic filing),” he said.  “There are some lawyers who are not accustomed to doing business online, but most like the ease and convenience of filing from their computers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Work is expected to begin soon to adapt the online system for use in Chancery Courts in Warren and Scott counties and in Circuit Court in Madison County.

Said Waller: “The Chancery Court was the hard piece of the project because there is no parallel in the federal trial courts.”

Though he has not yet used the new system, Madison attorney Ronnie Stutzman has utilized the federal electronic system for five years.

“I’m enrolled in the pilot project system but have not used it thus far,” he said.  “I’ve talked with some attorneys who are very excited about it because it will cut down on trips to the courthouse for filings.”

There is no fee to view documents during the pilot program, but it is expected that a payment system eventually will be installed. The federal court program charges eight cents per page to view electronic records. 

Johnston estimated that the new system would save his office over $5,000 annually in costs for items such as docket books, binders and shelving.

In May 2007, the Mississippi Supreme Court entered an agreement with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to study the feasibility of adapting the federal trial court electronic filing system for use in state courts.  

Anyone may set up a user account in the Public Access Mississippi Electronic Case Management system (PAMEC). One-time registration will cover any Mississippi trial court that utilizes electronic filing.

 Online registration is available

at the MEC web site at mssc.state.ms.us/mec/mec.html.

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