United States: Standardized E-Filing: The Appealing New Feature Of California Appellate Courts

Co-authored by Elisa M. Carino

Consistent filing and service procedures will become less of an oxymoron in California – especially for those legal practitioners who appear in the state's appellate courts. E-filing is currently not mandatory in most cases in appellate courts, but soon will be uniformly required, except for pro-se litigants. The State's trial courts, California Superior Courts, can choose to implement e-filing if they do not already require it. New standard e-filing and e-service rules will become effective January 1, 2017. Those resentful of mid-afternoon traffic rejoice. Messengers and couriers beware.

The Judicial Council of California proposed changes to current appellate e-filing rules.1 These address submission deadlines, document format, and e-service. With new e-filing rules, the Judicial Council has also proposed new e-service and consent rules. For example, the rules would decouple the e-filing and e-service rules such that some parties can choose to receive paper service of documents even if the documents were e-filed.

Some current local e-filing rules conflict with existing California Rules of Court. For example, contradicting instructions exist as to how e-filed briefs should be paginated. The Judicial Council wants to standardize: the numbering of an e-filed brief should begin on the cover page, even if the Roman numeral is omitted. Although pagination may not be the most captivating of cocktail party conversations, other proposed e-filing rules have, rightfully, generated serious debate.

These differing practitioner viewpoints notably focus on e-filing and e-service deadlines. The Judicial Council is in the process of choosing between 5 p.m. and midnight. The latter aligns with current federal court practice. A midnight deadline also provides lawyers and parties with more time to draft documents, which can reduce the risk of error. Champions of the 5 p.m. deadline argue that a midnight deadline could create a processing backlog. California courts operate with a staffing shortage. Seven extra hours of submissions arguably would worsen the timeliness in responding to emergency requests.

Both camps believe their proposal is the one that will protect vulnerable groups. A midnight deadline could unfairly benefit litigants with more resources. Some argue it favors parties with access to computers and to lawyers willing to extend the work day. On the other hand, many workers cannot easily take time off during the court's business day. A 5 p.m. deadline could force these parties, especially those involved in emergency proceedings like an unlawful detainer, to continue to request time off from work to address their cases.

Regardless of the Judicial Council's ultimate rulings, standardized e-filing make sense. Trial courts in some of California's major metropolitan areas already require e-filing in certain types of civil actions.2 But courts in other areas of the State, including large jurisdictions like Los Angeles County, have been slower to adopt e-filing. A uniform set of rules and procedures should increase efficiencies as e-filing becomes the norm across the State.

Footnotes

[1] The Judicial Council of California makes the rules for the California court system. It is responsible for "ensuring the consistent, independent, impartial, and accessible administration of justice." California courts can issue local rules consistent with those of the Judicial Council.

[2] For example, general civil and complex litigation cases must be e-filed in San Francisco. Orange County Superior Court requires e-filing in limited, unlimited, and complex civil litigation. Probate and Mental Health matters must also be e-filed in Orange County. San Diego County Superior Court requires e-filing for provisionally complex cases. This includes antitrust, construction defect, mass tort, environmental, securities, class action, and consolidated litigation.

Standardized E-Filing: The Appealing New Feature Of California Appellate Courts

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