By: William E. Kelley, Jr., Drewry Simmons Vornehm, LLP
During my early days as a law clerk, I was tasked with researching property records at county courthouses by reviewing handwritten entries in large, oversized transfer books in the Auditor’s Office, where all real estate transfers were recorded for the county. Many of those same records have been digitized and are now searchable through online websites and GIS programs, often making a trip to the courthouse unnecessary. Indiana courts and the records maintained in the Clerk’s Office were no better in many cases, often requiring hard copy review of court files in order to determine the status of a case and the nature of the pleadings, motions, and other filings. Like the property records before them, Indiana’s state court records will soon be digitized and subject to electronic filing requirements, moving courts away from the overwhelming volume of paper records filed every day.
Indiana courts have already implemented rules and procedures for the new electronic and digital age via electronic discovery rules. Parties and their attorneys are tasked with understanding how and where electronic information is stored, maintained, archived, and purged, in order to properly respond to requests for documents in litigation. Terms like metadata, native files, load files, and optical character recognition are now part of the regular vernacular in the discovery process. Now, Indiana state courts are ready to take the next step by joining the multitude of businesses, banks, and service providers that have converted to electronic transactional platforms. Gone (or at least soon to be gone) are the days of paper copies being filed with the Clerk’s Office, with additional copies mailed to other parties and attorneys involved in the litigation. In its place is a new system of electronic filing, where pleadings, motions, and orders are all filed and served electronically, with notices and filed documents being served exclusively through e-mail.
Along with the new electronic filing system is a new Indiana Rule of Trial Procedure, Rule 86. In addition to laying out the requirements for e-filing documents, Trial Rule 86 also provides guidance for exceptions and exemptions for pro se and unrepresented parties that may not readily have access to the electronic filing systems. New filings may be electronically filed, but the Summons and initial pleadings will still be served hard copy on non-parties and newly added parties to litigation, until they formally appear in the litigation and are registered with the court’s electronic filing system.
Many counties have already converted to a mandatory e-filing system, led by Hamilton County, which, as of July 1, 2016, required e-filing not only for new lawsuits, but also all filings in existing and pending lawsuits. The Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Court of Appeals each likewise implemented a mandatory e-filing requirement as of July 1, 2016. The implementation schedule for Indiana county courts that have converted—or are in the process of converting—to an e-filing system can be found here.
The conversion to an e-filing system is a necessary and logical progression for Indiana’s courts and litigation system. There may be learning curves and bumps in the road as Indiana’s ninety-two (92) counties, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court convert to wholly electronic filing systems. However, all indications are that this new e-filing system better reflects the way that parties, attorneys, and judges already do business, and it has the potential to expedite many aspects of the litigation process.