Thursday, July 24, 2014

E-filing works in SF Superior Court

Since I wrote about the e-filing coming to San Francisco last October, many changes were proposed, and some were even made, and the system started working on a wide variety of cases on July 14. Yesterday, I tried it for myself and today my first ever state-court filing went live! You may want to give it a try, the water looks safe!

[UPDATE 11-6-14] E-filing becomes mandatory across the board in civil cases in this court, with very few exceptions, effective December 8, 2014. Three more vendors were approved on November 5 in addition to the previously sole vendor, File & Serve Xpress.

I regularly use the Federal PACER / ECF online filing system and can use my experience for describing the one I used to file in the state court. The provider is called File & Serve Xpress (I'll call it "FSX" here), and you have to pre-register with them to be able to file in your cases. This is similar to ECF. You upload the file, give it a description, and submit for filing, and it will eventually come up as filed on the case's online "Registry of Action." Your PDF will be endorsed in a way similar to this:
FSX works differently from ECF, in several ways:

- FSX filing requires a fee, while ECF filing is free of charge; but
- ECF then gives you only one free opportunity to view or download the document, charging for all later retrievals, while FSX files it once and the file is then available for free view and download from the court's website. This is not because of FSX, but because our SF court does not charge for downloading a copy from its website. This varies per court: LA court does charge a fee, while courts for Contra Costa or Marin county don't offer copies yet;
- FSX also offers to serve the parties with the uploaded file; ECF can only serve those who are "of record" and consented to electronic filing, which reminds me of a missing convenience:
- ECF immediately notifies you once the filing is done—with my FSX filing I had never got any reminder or confirmation, had to go on the court's website to check;
- with ECF you file when you press the "submit" button—with FSX you upload, then the file gets converted and reviewed, and only then it will be filed;
- This also affects the timing. If I file a document on ECF 5 minutes before midnight, I still get that day's filing endorsement and will be officially considered compliant with the filing deadline falling on that day. With my FSX experiment, I uploaded my test document in the late afternoon on July 23rd, the system took significant time for converting and reviewing it, and then it only got filed on the following day, bearing the timestamp of the 24th. If I would have a filing deadline due on 23rd, I would fail to comply, so don't assume that FSX will give you a midnight endorsement like ECF.
- ECF gives you several foolproof warnings and double-checks, asking you for redaction of personal information and the like, and I haven't noticed the same level of worrying from FSX (unless it is all done at a "review" stage following upload), so make sure you check your PDFs before uploading.
- ECF / PACER is essentially a nationwide system, ran by the government and allowing you to look up cases in any state (several alternative ECFs exist for other courts, like bankruptcy courts have their own ECF). FSX is a private company, offers its services only where it contracts for work, and I can't look up just a random case from a random state court.

Finally, FSX runs a free CLE class, where you get to learn the system and receive an hour of CLE.

Those above are the noticed differences so far. I am yet to test how it works with a noticed motion, how to enter a whole package of interconnected documents (I saw an option for that, but haven't used it yet), how it assigns departments, and how well it will play in connection with the new rule requiring pre-calendaring all but discovery motions and obtaining a reservation number. I am sure it all works fine, but will be interested to try it out.

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