Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Message from Justice Rebecca Simmons to the JCIT on the Governor's Signing SB 2302 the eFiling Finance Bill

Justice Rebecca Simmons
Chairman, Judicial Commission on Information Technology
Dear JCIT Team,

Congratulations, your hard work and perseverance has paid off! This past Friday Governor Perry signed House Bill 2302 into law thereby reducing the cost of e-filing to the filer and continuing the $2.00 recovery fee for the counties that e-file. This has a been a long process that began many years ago, including the JCIT's 2010 report to the Supreme Court that recommended changing the financial structure of efiling and an effort to pass similar legislation in the 2011 legislative session. Without your help and support this great accomplishment would not have been possible. Thank you all for your dedication and hard work. This also would not have been possible without the work of David Slayton and is great team at Office of Court Administration who helped shepherd this bill through the legislative process.

Of course there is still more work to be done. Our next big job is assisting in the transition to e-filing by educating lawyers, clerks, judges and the public on the benefits of e-filing. With your continued dedication and support we can help build an electronic filing system that we can all be proud of.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

New Court Related Legislation Taking Effect Immediately

Below you will find a list of bills concerning the courts and judicial process that were passed by a sufficient plurality of the legislature to be effective immediately.  The text of the legislation can be found at the Texas Legislature's website below:

Texas Legislature Online Bill Search Portal

Be sure to click the "Bill Number" bullet then enter the bill's number. The enrolled version is the text of the bill as passed.

The complete listing of all bills effective immediately may be found at this link:

83rd Legislature Bills Effective Immediately

The following are bills of special interest to the courts and attorneys:

HB 1016
Author: Davis, Sarah Sponsor: Williams
Last Action: 05/18/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to legal representation for civil suits against peace officers employed by a school district.

HB 1263
Author: Lewis
Sponsor: Duncan
Last Action: 04/10/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to the delay in the implementation of the abolishment of small claims courts.

HB 1445
Author: Thompson, Senfronia
Sponsor: Duncan
Last Action: 05/28/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to the distribution of certain civil penalties and civil restitution received by the attorney general.

SB 354
Author: West
Sponsor: Giddings
Last Action: 05/18/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to permitting electronic delivery of certain documents in a criminal case.

SB 387
Author: Nichols
Sponsor: Clardy
Last Action: 05/10/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to county participation in a program for improvement of collection of court costs, fees, and fines imposed in criminal cases.

SB 367
Author: Whitmire
Sponsor: Murphy
Last Action: 05/18/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to the disposition of abandoned or unclaimed property seized at the time of certain arrests.

SB 422
Author: Duncan
Sponsor: Darby
Last Action: 05/02/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to service of citation on a financial institution.

SB 670
Author: Whitmire
Sponsor: Turner, Sylvester
Last Action: 05/24/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to the copying of certain records and files relating to a child who is a party to a juvenile proceeding.

SB 1236
Author: West
Sponsor: Gonzalez, Naomi
Last Action: 05/18/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to the extension of an emergency order for protective services for certain persons who are elderly or have disabilities.

SB 1896
Author: Garcia
Sponsor: Naishtat
Last Action: 05/25/2013 E Effective immediately
Caption: Relating to the confidentiality of information in ad valorem tax appraisal records that identifies the home address of certain judges.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

District Clerk Calls for New Criminal Courts Facility

Dallas County Needs a New Courthouse - Dallas Morning News

I was quoted liberally in an article in today's Dallas Morning News along with a Pulitzer picture of me poring over documents. The genesis of the article were some remarks I made several months ago after an interloper slipped in to a jury room after lunch break resulting in a mistrial. I suggested that the commissioners court consider replacing the Frank Crowley Courthouse with one designed to meet the security needs of our judiciary and our modern courts.

Travis County spent five to seven years studying a new Justice Center to meet the needs of their courts and voters in 2011 approved $340 million in bonds to fund it. Travis County, like Dallas County, enjoys a "triple A" Standard &Poor rating so a bond program to fund a new criminal courts facility is not pie-in-sky. This is Dallas - we think big here and live large and I believe we should settle for nothing less than the finest court facilities and system in the state.

We have a new commissioner’s court today, a new county judge, a new team of county administrators and new judges. But Dallas County is still operating under priorities determined and decisions made in the late 1980s. The "pay-go" vision of financing county government is certainly sober and responsible and has much to recommend it, but it also has its costs. By electing an entirely new county leadership team and new judges, I think the public expects a re-examination of the strategic direction of county government, its tax structure and its operations.

Master Plans are policy documents that represent the strategic vision and priorities of an organization. Our latest Master Plan was issued, ironically, in 2007 the very year that forty-nine new elected officials took office. By electing new leaders, the voters of Dallas County have demanded change and that means a re-evaluation of the priorities set by a previous generation of elected officials. Commissioners should take steps to invite the public to a larger discussion of what direction the county should be moving in, what our tax structure should be and whether the county’s policy against issuing capital bonds, something every other county over 1 million does, is best for our future..

Imagine Riverfront without the Jail - Dallas Morning News

I was gratified that Raul De La Garza of the Dallas Morning News pointed out that in the discussion of costs associated with building a new facility, what must be factored in is the economic benefit derived from the improvements that would be made possible along Riverfront and the Trinity corridor.

Dallas has a great opportunity to transform a mundane flood plain into a destination for recreation, entertainment and commerce. The likely closure and demolition of the Dawson State Jail across from Lew Sterrett is a big step in the right direction.  The improvements sighted by the Trinity River Corridor Project are essential to our county's economic future. Indeed, over the next twenty years the county will be challenged with meeting the needs of an aging population, housing and infrastructure. In addition, we continue to face stiff competition from the rapidly growing exurban counties to our north and south. By investing in county government we are investing in our community’s infrastructure and resources to meet these challenges.  

Dallas County has undergone a remarkable change in the attitude and outlook of its people. If the strategies adopted by previous commissioner courts are as right for the county now as they were then, great. But opening up the dialogue and the discussion, in my view, is not an option. It’s our responsibility.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New Legislation will Change the Structure of eFiling and Reduce Costs for Attorneys

The two greatest impediments to the universal acceptance and use of electronic filing are:

  1. Per filing transaction fee, and;
  2. Use of electronic documents by the court

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the transaction fees range from a low of $7 per filing to a high of $14. That includes all individual filings from original petitions, motions, vacation letters and notices; basically anything an attorney or litigant files into the clerk’s record. The idea of being assessed a $14 eFiling fee for a motion rankles many attorneys – and rightfully so.

The JCIT for the past five years has been studying different ways to structure the financing of statewide eFiling in order to move away from the “toll road” model. What has been needed is a way of off-setting the costs of implementing state-wide eFiling. This need and other developments since the 82nd Legislature when legislation was first introduced has led to the filing of legislation this year that will substantially change the financing structure for eFiling in Texas.

Just a little history: NIC-USA picked up the Texas Department of Information Resources’ (DIR) Texas Online eFiling contract after Bearing Point declared bankruptcy in 2009. In 2011, NIC-USA notified DIR that it would not be renewing its contract after expiration in 2012. This gave new energy to the JCIT and the Office of Court Administration (OCA) in developing a more appropriate model for managing and financing eFiling in Texas. The new vision transferred management of the contract from DIR to OCA and resulted in the issuance of an RFP designed specifically for the needs of the court. With the RFP awarded to Tyler Technologies, and the Supreme Court’s mandate in December 2011, the future of eFiling in Texas now enjoys a clarity today that it did not have during the 82nd Legislature.

House bill 2302 introduced by Representative Todd Hunter from Corpus Christi and its Senate companion SB 1146 introduced by my Senator, Royce West, is now on the way to the Governor for signature. This legislation provides a firmer financial footing for eFiling structure as well as progressively reducing its cost and substantially eliminating most of the transaction fees. You may view a copy of the legislation at this link:

This new legislation will amend the Government Code to mandate collection of a $20 filing fee for all civil and probate cases as well as appellate actions for the creation of a Statewide Electronic Filing Fund. In addition, a $10 fee will be applied to filings in the justice of the peace courts and an additional $5 court cost on criminal convictions in the county and district courts. The fees are expected to generate $18 million per year which is expected to be used toward the maintenance of the statewide system and substantially reduce or in some cases eliminate the transaction fees.

The bill empowers the counties to assess a $2 transaction fee to recover the cost of implementing the system. That fee will expire in 2019. The Dallas County district clerk will not be asking the commissioners court to assess that fee and will recommend against it. The bill also permits the OCA to make grants to counties to implement eFiling in their courts. This will be of particular benefit for smaller counties where there is insufficient filing volume to recover the costs necessary for such implementation.

The bill also amends Government Code Chapter 21 to specifically authorize a judge to apply a digital or electronic signature to any official court document. This will go a long way to effectuating a truly paper-on-demand system.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Draft Statewide eFiling Rules now before Supreme Court

The eFiling mandate issued by the Supreme Court requires the promulgation of eFiling rules applicable to every county covered by the mandate. These statewide eFiling rules will supersede the current Local Rules that govern electronic filing in those counties now offering it.

The Judicial Committee on Information Technology (JCIT) was assigned the task by the Supreme Court to draft rules for submission to the Court’s rules committee. Working closely with the Office of Court Administration, the JCIT drafted those rules and submitted them to the committee in April.

The Rules Committee heard a presentation on the draft Friday, April 27th and incorporated a number of amendments. The revised draft has since been issued and is now before the Supreme Court for adoption. A copy of the draft eFiling rules is available on my website at this link:

I encourage you to look through the Rules yourself, but some of the highlights include:

  • Applicable to documents filed by attorneys with certain exceptions (3.1);
  • Pro se litigants may file conventionally;
  • Eliminates fax filing and requires filing through the OCA’s TexFile portal;
  • Multiple pleadings for the same case may be eFiled in a single transaction;
  • Permits electronic signatures;
  • Permits electronic notarization;
  • Provides for electronic court orders and electronic judicial signatures;
  • Provides document standards attorneys must meet prior to eFiling (3.6);
  • Provides a timeliness standard clerks must meet when accepting filings;
  • Requires the clerk to make eFilings available to the judge within 24 hours;
  • Provides for electronic service;
  • Prohibits the filing of sensitive data (5.3)

Attorneys should note that there are new standards that you will be required to meet when eFiling your petitions and pleadings. Pay close attention to section 3.6 concerning document standards and section 5 concerning sensitive data. The rules essentially place the onus on the attorney to restrict sensitive data from pleadings.

The link also includes all of the appendicies referred to in the Rules. I hope this will give the legal community here in Dallas an opportunity to get a ‘head start’ in meeting the new requirements.