Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lost in the aether

In an effort to reduce the amount of paper that lawyers generate, the Texas Supreme Court mandated that all civil and family pleadings be filed electronically. On the one hand it's great because you can sit down at your desk, draft the pleadings and file them at any time without having to drive downtown. Of course now there are more folks with their hands in the pie taking a cut of the fees so it costs a bit more - but probably no more than the gas and parking for going downtown.

Unfortunately, at least in the family courts, e-filing has caused things to bog down. Here's an example.

Back on the 12th of June I filed a divorce petition and request for a temporary restraining order. Now, in the old days we would go to the filing window in the basement of the Family Law Center, file our petitions, pay the filing fees and, if there was a TRO to be signed, take the file from the clerk and walk it up to the courtroom for the judge to sign. After it was signed we'd walk it back down to the clerk and it would go in the stack to be processed. Generally within a week the paperwork was ready to be picked up and served.

No more.

After filing the petition on a Thursday evening, I had to wait until Tuesday for it to be signed by the judge (in all fairness, the judge was out of town on Friday after I filed the petition). So far so good, more or less. But then the paperwork got lost in the ether at the Civil Courthouse. On Friday the 20th I went to the window for the family section and asked if the petition was ready to be picked up. I was told by the clerk that it wasn't and that I should check back on Monday or Tuesday.

Since I was scheduled for trial yesterday I decided I wouldn't go to the courthouse on Monday - I figured it gave me better odds of not wasting my time. So yesterday I stopped back by the family section before heading over to the Criminal (In)justice Center. I was expecting to pick up the paperwork so that I could serve it on the husband.

But, to my surprise, it still wasn't ready to be picked up. I was told to come back by on Wednesday to see if it was ready.

Assuming it is ready for pick up today, it will have taken almost two full weeks for the petition to be filed, the TRO to be signed and the citation produced. That is a ridiculous timeline. Shouldn't one of the benefits of e-filing be speedier turn-around time? The process now takes longer than the old paper filing system did.

And this fiasco is just part of the story. Under Chris Daniel's "leadership," not only does it take longer to initiate a new case, going on-line to the website to check on the status of a case is often a hit-or-miss affair. The website's search database is prone to crashing and bringing the system to a halt.

Since Mr. Daniel decided to take the old Justice Information Management System and migrate it to the searchable database, attorneys and bondsmen looking for current information on a defendant's status find themselves having to wait for hours for the system to update itself.

Mr. Daniel has done everything he can to promote himself with an election coming up in November. For those folks who don't deal with the courthouses on a daily basis, the mere fact that he has an "R" after his name will be enough to get him lots and lots of votes in the vapid suburbs. For the rest of us, however, his tenure has been an exercise in just keeping one's head above water. The District Clerk's Office certainly isn't in better shape today than it was before he was elected. The prospects for the future aren't much brighter, I'm afraid.

For all the hoopla about e-filing, the actual product has failed to live up to expectations and a two-week lag between filing a petition and picking up the citation is nothing short of pathetic. Maybe if Mr. Daniel spent more time managing the office and less time campaigning things would work better.

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