E-Filing Practice Tips
by Judge Jim Jordan
As everyone is aware, Dallas County civil courts have gone from hard paper filing to paperless e-filing. The procedure of filing is still largely the same—documents are filed with the clerk’s office, which then processes and files them in the appropriate file. Original Petitions are still handled exclusively by the central file desk, although electronic filing of motions is now handled directly by the clerks assigned to the courts. The following are some tips to help trial attorneys with this transition.
Originals are shredded. Files existing before the transition to e-filing have been scanned into the system and the originals have been shredded. There appear to have been some occasions, although rare, where the original was shredded before being scanned. Also, while the clerks still accept hard filings, they usually immediately scan and then shred them. Keep your file-marked copies just in case.
Incomplete scanning / misfiling. On occasion I have pulled up electronic copies and found some of the pages to be incomplete or missing. So it is probably a good idea to follow up to make sure your whole document made it into the file. And, if you don’t have the correct style or cause number (a common error when using old pleadings as a form) it will likely go into the wrong file. On rare occasion, the clerk may enter a number incorrectly. Help the clerks help you; go to the website to ensure your pleading is filed correctly and in the correct case. You can check the District Clerk’s website for all filings (www.dallascounty.org/public_access.php). For now, downloaded copies are free.
E-filing is not e-mailing. Even though you can now e-file your pleadings, this does not mean the document goes straight to the judge’s computer. It can still take a day or so for the document to show up in the file when brought up on the court’s computer. For example, anything e-filed Friday afternoon or over the weekend will not be on the system until Monday afternoon because staff works up the backlog in the morning. And anything filed late in the afternoon may not be worked up until the following morning as the file clerks leave at 4:30 p.m.
If your hearing is less than a couple of days away, file a courtesy hard copy for the court. Two or three days in advance works best because filing them long in advance, say at the same time you file your MSJ or motion to transfer venue, risks having them misplaced or forgotten by the hearing date. For the most important hearings, a notebook with the motion, response and significant authority relied upon will be appreciated. Not all courts, however, have the same policy regarding courtesy copies. Check first with the court’s clerk/coordinator or website.
Paginate your pleadings. Depending on the software and method used to create a document, there may be no real hyperlink ability available for searching through filed documents. A lengthy document—say a 485-page MSJ or MSJ response with attached exhibits—will open up as page 1 of 485 pages. If you request the judge to look at Exhibit “G” for instance, the judge has to page through until exhibit “G’ is found. But if the entire document is sequentially paginated, you can refer the judge to the page where exhibit “G” is located and the judge can enter the number and jump to that page.
If you have the right kind of PDF software, you may be able to make the document smaller, searchable for words and phrases, and include bookmarks. For this, do not print and then scan the document. Print the file to a PDF driver which converts the file to PDF format or, if your software allows, save as a PDF file before e-filing.
Short pleading titles. When accessing a file, the judge will pull up a “document search result” screen to look for a specific pleading. This screen has four columns—file date, document type, comment, and case number. The clerk fills out this information when the document is filed, but has only a very limited number of characters available to describe the “document type.” The clerk generally gets that information from the pleading’s title. If that title is three or four lines long, the clerk must make a judgment call. So a paper entitled “Request for Leave to Appear by Phone, Objections to Evidence and Response to Motion for Summary Judgment,” may get listed as a “Request for Leave.” The judge preparing for the MSJ hearing may thus pass over this pleading. Use short titles to help out the clerks and consider separate pleadings for separate relief. If you must combine several requests in one document, put the most important first.
Submission of proposed orders. Local Rule 2.08 requires counsel seeking affirmative relief to tender a proposed order to the court at the commencement of any hearing. It’s a good idea for counsel opposing the relief to submit one as well. But, if orders are submitted to the clerk after the hearing, include a cover letter, whether e-filed or not, that requests the order be given to the judge. Otherwise, the order may sit in e-filed limbo without the judge knowing it is there.
Looking forward. The constables will no longer serve civil papers as of November 1, 2011. So, unless one uses a private process server,civil process will be sent electronically to the Sheriff instead of printing it out and having them come over. Because the Sheriff will now have Odyssey, attorneys will be able to track process through the Odyssey Service Tab. eNotice should be implemented the first quarter of next year, allowing attorneys to get an email notice when the clerk enters an event into Odyssey.
Final thoughts. Some judges and lawyers are more supportive of paperless files than others, but the fact of the matter is we're not going back to the old system. We need to work out the bugs. If something isn’t working right, there’s nothing wrong with contacting the district or county clerk directly.
Judge Jim Jordan presides over the 160th District Court. Judge Marty Lowy, Judge Mark Greenberg, Judge Teresa Guerra-Snelson and District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons assistedwith this article.