Court Cuts & Going Paperless

The economy is still gloomy, despite the talk of “recovery” we hear from Sacramento and Washington, and we have a long way to go before things get better.

The courts have been affected and have responded by cutting service and hours and I’m afraid pretty soon we’ll see more closed courtrooms.

The Fresno County Superior Court recently announced that it’s cutting the court clerk’s hours effective on July 8, 2013. The new hours are 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8:00 a.m. to noon on Fridays.

This wouldn’t be necessary except that most of the courts in California actually do the best they can to create more work for themselves. Why we are still filing paper documents at the courthouse baffles me. The federal courts abolished this old-fashioned practice years ago with the Pacer system, and while Pacer is a little clunky and not very intuitive, it is a workable system that takes a lot of busy work away from the clerks and makes things more efficient. Uploading pdf files to Pacer is much smarter than taking papers down to the courthouse and having them file-stamped and then serving them on all the parties.

I know in Fresno that it takes several days from the time a motion or other document is filed before it actually reaches the court’s file. In Contra Costa County, I just found out that it takes several days from the time a motion is filed before it shows up on their website and even if you call the clerk’s office, they don’t know for several days if a motion has been filed.

This is so 1975!

So on the one hand I do feel for the courts because of the budget problem. But on the other hand, those who run the courts haven’t done a very good job of keeping up with the times.

But simply going paperless isn’t always the solution unless it is done right.

For a shining example of how not to go paperless, just look at the EAMS system at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. According to the WCAB, “EAMS is a computer-based case management system that simplified and improved the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) case management process.”

Well that’s a joke. After EAMS was implemented, all the workers’ compensation forms grew – they added more pages to each form! Also, there are divider sheets that have to be printed and filed with each filing. Why? Because attorneys have to prepare the documents and then file them the old-fashioned way by taking them or mailing them to the WCAB where they are file-stamped and then scanned!

So what the WCAB did was to actually and unnecessarily increase the use of paper and then created more work for itself by having to scan all filings itself, which means that it had to spend money to buy all the scanners and then to pay people to scan the documents! This is for documents already created on computers that don’t need to be scanned—the documents could have simply been uploaded to the WCAB and then automatically served on all parties just like in federal court!

I don’t know whose idea EAMS was, but that person or persons should be tarred and feathered.

And the Department of Fair Employment and Housing made the jump into online filing using a system devised by Houdini, Esq., and it’s been a rocky ride for sure. But at least it looks as if the kinks are being worked out (kinks such as the wrong dates on RTS letters, etc…).

The lessons  are clear—technology can ease the pain of budget cuts, but only if implemented properly.

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