Starting Tuesday a trip down to the Spokane County Superior Courthouse won’t be necessary to file documents for some case types.
The Spokane County Clerk’s office is launching e-filing Tuesday for probate and civil commitment cases; in three weeks e-filing becomes available for domestic cases, such as parenting plans, and adoption cases. By the end of August, e-filing will be available for all Superior Court case types, including civil and criminal cases.
Timothy Fitzgerald said he promised when he was elected to be Spokane County Superior Court Clerk that he would modernize the office. It started with setting up a system to accept credit and debit card payments, then beginning to use Odyssey, a statewide court record system. The latest upgrade is electronic filing.
Over the past three years, the clerk’s office has digitized the old files and built up adequate equipment to use the new system. In the process they reduced their paper records from 246,000 to 175,000, Fitzgerald said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic made the need for e-filing clear, it also helped pay for the system. The clerk’s office received a total of $220,840 to select, purchase, and implement the system via the CARES Act.
Fitzgerald took bids from 16 vendors initially. After reviewing those bids, he asked four vendors to do a demonstration to a panel of stakeholders. Ultimately, Imagesoft was chosen with their TrueFiling system.
“We are so excited,” said Ashley Callan, Superior Court Administrator. “Superior Court is so excited that Tim (Fitzgerald) took the lead to launch this. It’s a massive undertaking.”
Callan can see a slew of small ways e-filing will streamline the current system. Right now, first appearances are done electronically with inmates signing an electronic pad in the jail courtroom and the judge reviewing the document, all online. Then those documents are printed and filed in the clerk’s office where they scan the document to file them electronically in their system, Callan said.
The step of printing and scanning a document that already exists online will be removed with the new TrueFiling system.
“All of that has been going on for years, but we haven’t gotten … the clerks looped in to help with that,” Callan said. “We’re cutting out that loop to make it more real time, which is really how you get folks to embrace technology when it actually works and it makes more sense.”
Anyone can sign up for a login on the TrueFiling website. They then select the type of case they need to file and fill out all the basic information before uploading their documents in whatever form works for them, PDFs and Word files are just some of the documents accepted, said Jenifer Evans, assistant lead process clerk. If there are fees associated with the filing, the filers can pay them online or apply for a fee waiver, all in the system.
Users can also sign up for email notifications on their filings. Attorneys can link their accounts to fellow attorneys, legal aids or anyone else that might need access to their files or to file on their behalf, Evans said.
On the backend of the system, a process clerk like Evans will review the documents and stamp them. The TrueFiling system is integrated with both Odyssey and the in -house document viewing system to automatically upload the documents.
Previously, clerks would have to scan the paper documents then print out a barcode that would be scanned to upload the documents to Odyssey, Evans explained.
Currently, it takes about a day for documents to be processed, officially filed and available online. With the new system it will take a matter of hours.
“Now, we’re still working one day behind because we still have paper coming in the office, once it becomes mandatory that we do electronic filing, we will be working same day,” Evans said.
Saving time is a big perk of the new system for local attorneys, said Julie Griffith, executive director of the Spokane County Bar Association.
“Right now people have to come to the clerk’s office, they have to pull files, they go to our office to copy files, bring it back,” Evans said. “It makes a huge difference, especially when it comes to people’s time and being able to organize files in one central location.”
Before the e-filing system was put into place, the bar association did a survey of their members and of the 320 attorneys asked, only four said they would continue paper filing, Evans said.
“They fully embrace it,” Evans said. “I think they would have like to have it 10 years ago but throughout Washington that just hasn’t happened, so with Tim’s leadership it has happened.”
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