The two greatest impediments to the universal acceptance and use of electronic filing are:
- Per filing transaction fee, and;
- 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.