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Mississippi front-runner in court E-filing

Scott County following the lead of Madison County with open records for all

With e-filing through the Mississippi Electronic Court (MEC) system, lawyers save time and money, and lengthy legal briefs in pdf format are accessible to the public with the stroke of a button.

The system allows attorneys to file their pleadings and retrieve documents via the Internet.

The big advantage attorneys are going to find with e-filing is that the system sends out copies of filings electronically to all parties involved in a case, said Chancery Judge H. David Clark II.

Clark has jurisdiction over Scott County Chancery Court, which began accepting voluntary e-filing this month and will make participation in the program mandatory by April 1.

Traditionally, an attorney prints a copy of a brief, signs it, makes copies for all parties involved and then mails the copies to individual parties. With MEC, delivery will be instantaneous and attorneys will save money, which should translate into cost savings for the client, Clark said.

The first court in Mississippi to use MEC was Madison County Chancery Court, which began accepting e-files in the summer of 2009.

“The Mississippi Electronic Court has been a resounding success thus far. We’d had very few problems or complaints by members of the Bar,” said Arthur Johnston, Madison County Chancery Clerk.

Mississippi is the only state involved in the MEC pilot program, which uses software that came from the federal government and is similar to its Pacer system, but without a cost per page. A fee per page view is expected to be implemented a later date.

“Nobody else has what we are doing. We are the front runner,” Clark said. “Eventually, our courts will be essentially paperless,” with the exception of documents for adoption proceedings, which are currently not public and will remain so.

Training for attorneys and law office staff in the use of the e-filing system will be conducted in the IT Training Room at the Gartin Building in Jackson. Training sessions are scheduled for Feb. 23 and 25. Additional sessions will be scheduled later.

Judge Clark served on a committee that recommended guidelines for the development of a statewide electronic filing and case management system for the trial courts. Discussions about bringing the program to Mississippi began approximately five years ago, he said.

Scott, Madison and Warren County Chancery Courts and the Madison County Circuit Court are participating in the pilot project. Madison County Chancery Court began accepting voluntary e-filing July 22, 2009, and mandatory electronic filing went into effect in Madison County Chancery Court Sept. 15, 2009. Work is underway to adapt the electronic filing system for use in Madison County Circuit Court. Warren County Chancery Court began work with MEC staff Jan. 12.

The first steps in implementing software use are analysis of the court’s needs and training of court staff.

Clark said he has used his own computerized system for several years in the Second Chancery District, which includes Scott, Newton and Jasper counties. From his office in Forest, he keeps track of dockets for cases filed in Bay Springs, Paulding and Decatur as well as Forest.

In the past, documents have been filed in paper form in the Second Chancery District, but were scanned as electronic images into a vendor-provided system. During the pilot project, Scott County Chancery Court will maintain the paper files, the vendor-provided imaging system and the MEC system.

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About Amy McCullough