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After months of delay, Cook County begins electronic filing for civil cases

Monday, July 02, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Elyssa Cherney

After months of delay, Cook County begins electronic filing for civil cases

Long lines and confusion marked the opening hours of electronic filing for civil cases at the Daley Center on Monday as Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown rolled out the new system in time to meet an Illinois Supreme Court deadline.

Shawanda Spraggs, 45, was among the first wave of people to encounter the new system at the downtown courthouse. She was with her 23-year-old son, who needed to file a motion in a debt case with a credit card company. The pair wandered between floors until they were directed to the proper room to register with eFileIL — a step that must be completed before a case can proceed.

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“Expect a delay,” Spraggs said while filling out forms near the civil division office. “Expect to be shifted in different directions.”

The launch of the new e-filing system comes six months after the state Supreme Court granted Brown an extension to end paper submissions in Cook County, where nearly 62 percent of civil lawsuits in 2017 were filed as hard copies.

Despite some early kinks, Brown said, the transition was going well, especially later in the afternoon when fewer court cases were called. She said her staff will continue to evaluate which divisions draw the largest crowds for registration so she can best allocate her resources.

“The lines are not as long because most of the appearances were at 9 a.m.,” Brown said Monday afternoon. “Every time you put in a new system, you have to do business process re-engineering.”

The order from the state’s top court was part of an effort to digitize legal documents in all of Illinois’ 102 circuit courts two years ago. Fifteen counties, including Cook and DuPage, that already had their own electronic filing system were given extra time to completely shift their old systems to eFileIL.

READ MORE: Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown ordered to improve public access to electronic records »

In Cook County, the change enables people to file lawsuits and other legal matters on the internet instead of having to make an in-person visit to Chicago or suburban courthouses.

The mandate affects all civil cases, including those in the law, chancery, domestic violence and probate divisions, said Jalyne Strong, chief public information officer for the clerk’s office.

Anticipating the change, the clerk’s office has offered training through online webinars and public computers in the lower level of the Daley Center, Strong said. Last month, the office also hosted a training seminar for about 1,000 attorneys, she said.

“Everything is going very well,” Strong said Monday morning, calling the kickoff a success. “Most of the clerk's office staff is assisting people to register.”

To register with eFileIL, run by Texas-based Tyler Technologies, people must have an email address and a form of electronic payment, Strong said. People can register at home or any other computer, Strong said.

But Nicole Owens, a landlord who was at the Daley Center to file an eviction motion Monday, said she worried the new system may create added barriers for people who need to access the courts. Owens, 34, said she was able to get through all the steps in about 20 minutes.

“Fortunately, I know how to use a computer,” she said.

READ MORE: Handwritten documents, Manila folders, carbon paper — welcome to Cook County criminal court »

Strong said the clerk’s office has anticipated that issue. The office expected the most questions to come from self-representing litigants who may not have email addresses and may require extra help. To meet their needs, staff was deployed to help them create email addresses and guide them through registration, Strong said.

In special cases, people who cannot use a computer can file an affidavit with the court that allows them to do the paper filing, Brown said. Wills and some other sensitive filings, including orders of protection, will continue to be done on paper too, Brown said.

Maribeth Edwards said she waited for nearly an hour in a line before she could register at a public computer to file a motion in an unemployment case.

“Try to be patient,” Edwards said after successfully navigating the system. “This is the first day for them, and it’s not going as smoothly as they would like.”

Brown long has faced allegations that she has stalled in modernizing the notoriously archaic filing systems in her office.

The state’s high court granted Brown more time to end nearly all paper filings in civil cases after the clerk said her vendor wouldn't be ready by the Jan. 1 deadline. Brown had asked the court for an additional year to fully implement electronic filing, but the court’s ruling only allowed the circuit clerk to continue using the previous system through June 30.

Brown also has faced separate litigation over providing timely access to electronically filed civil suits. In February, a federal judge affirmed his existing order giving Brown 30 days to ensure that digital copies of lawsuits could be accessed in real time from Daley Center public terminals, rejecting her arguments that complying with the court order would be cost-prohibitive.

Brown previously told the Tribune that a complete overhaul of the criminal court system — where attorneys frequently rely upon carbon paper to make copies of filings — is to be completed by March 2019.

echerney@chicagotribune.com



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