Spokane County Clerk Launches Electronic Filing to Streamline Procedures
As of Tuesday, a trip to the Spokane County Upper Courthouse will not be required to file documents for certain types of cases.
Spokane County Clerk’s Office Launches Electronic Filing Tuesday for Probate and Civil Undertaking Cases; within three weeks, e-filing becomes available for domestic cases, such as parenting plans and adoption cases. By the end of August, electronic filing will be available for all types of Superior Court cases, including civil and criminal cases.
Timothy Fitzgerald said he promised when he was elected 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 and then starting to use Odyssey, a statewide court registration system. The latest update is electronic filing.
Over the past three years, the Registrar’s Office has digitized old files and acquired adequate equipment to use the new system. In the process, they reduced their paper files from 246,000 to 175,000, Fitzgerald said.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly made e-filing necessary, it has also helped pay for the system. The clerk’s office received a total of $ 220,840 to select, purchase and implement the system through the CARES Act.
Fitzgerald initially accepted offers from 16 suppliers. After reviewing these offers, he asked four vendors to demonstrate to a panel of stakeholders. Ultimately, Imagesoft was chosen with their TrueFiling system.
“We are so excited,” said Ashley Callan, administrator of the Superior Court. “The Superior Court is so excited that Tim (Fitzgerald) has taken the lead in launching this. It is a huge undertaking.
Callan can see a multitude of small ways that e-filing will streamline the current system. Currently, first appearances are electronic, with inmates signing an electronic block in the prison 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 eliminated with the new TrueFiling system.
“This has all been going on for years, but we haven’t had… the clerks went on a loop to help us,” Callan said. “We’re removing that loop to make it more real-time, which is really how you get people to embrace technology when it actually works and it makes more sense.”
Anyone can register for a connection on the TrueFiling website. They then select the type of file they need to file and fill out all the basic information before uploading their documents in the form they want. PDF and Word files are just a few of the accepted documents, said Jenifer Evans, senior process assistant. If there are fees associated with filing, filers can pay them online or request a fee waiver, all within the system.
Users can also sign up to receive email notifications about their returns. Lawyers can link their accounts to fellow lawyers, legal aid workers or anyone else who may need to access their files or give evidence on their behalf, Evans said.
At the back 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 internal document viewing system to automatically upload documents.
Previously, employees had to scan the paper documents and then print 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 few hours.
“Now we are always working a day late because we still have paper in the office, once it becomes mandatory that we do electronic filing we will be working the same day,” Evans said.
The time savings are a big benefit of the new system for local lawyers, 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 check out files, they go to our office to copy files, bring them back,” Evans said. “It makes a huge difference, especially when it comes to people’s time and the ability to organize files in a central location. “
Before the e-filing system was put in place, the law society conducted a survey of its members and of the 320 lawyers interviewed, only four said they would continue to file on paper, Evans said.
“They fully embrace her,” Evans said. “I think they would have liked to have had it 10 years ago, but all over Washington it just didn’t happen, so with Tim’s leadership it did.”