Webster prepares to e-file Chancery Court records

From Press Reports

Grenada County Chancery Court is the most recent of eight counties
using electronic filing of court records. E-filing became mandatory
on March 18 in Grenada County Chancery Court.

Chancery Courts in Lowndes and Webster counties and the Clay County
Circuit Court are in the early stages of implementing e-filing
systems. No dates have been set yet for those courts to begin
accepting e-filing from attorneys.

E-filing became mandatory for chancery courts in Holmes and Yazoo
counties on March 4. Rankin County Chancery Court made e-filing
mandatory on Feb. 4. Mandatory e-filing was implemented earlier in
Chancery, Circuit and County Courts in Madison, Harrison and Warren
counties, and in the Chancery Court of DeSoto County.

E-filing is currently used only in civil cases. Madison County
Circuit Court Clerk Lee Westbrook will be the first to use e-filing
for criminal cases. Madison Circuit began staff training and in-house
use of the criminal e-filing system on March 19. Dates have yet to be
set to begin voluntary and mandatory e-filing in criminal cases.

Madison County was the original pilot test site for the development
of the Mississippi Electronic Courts program. Madison County Chancery
Clerk Arthur Johnston and his staff worked with MEC to adapt the
federal court’s e-filing and document management system for use by
the state courts. Voluntary e-filing began in Madison Chancery Court
in July 2009, and e-filing became mandatory in September 2009.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said, “I
think that the addition of Grenada Chancery to MEC is a very
important step in the development of a statewide electronic filing
system for the judiciary. It is significant to note that a small,
rural county such as Grenada County has access to the same technology
that larger and better-financed counties such as Madison and Rankin
have. This creates a level playing field for all counties to
participate in modernization of court practices.”

Chancery Judge Percy Lynchard, who has used e-filing in DeSoto County
for more than a year, said he looks forward to using the technology
in Grenada County at the south end of the district.

“You can certainly get an order entered much quicker this way. In the
past, even if you had an agreed order, you would leave it with my
court administrator and I would sign it,” he said. E-filing allows
attorneys to e-mail the proposed order. The order can be filed
immediately after the judge signs it. “It saves a whole lot of
paperwork, a whole lot of time and trouble, and a whole lot of miles
to the courthouse,” Judge Lynchard said.

Grenada County Chancery Clerk John Hayward said he’s wanted the MEC
system since he took office five years ago. “We are looking forward
to the space savings and the efficiency of the system,” he said. “We
appreciate the Supreme Court helping us with this and anticipate that
this should be a very good cost savings for our taxpayers….We are
very excited and feel sure this is going to be a whole lot more
economical than the books.”

Chancery Judge Janace Harvey Goree, who presides in Madison, Holmes
and Yazoo counties, has used e-filing in Madison County Chancery
Court for several years. Electronic access to documents allows the
judge to work efficiently and allows attorneys to expedite some
matters on which both sides agree, she said. For instance, after an
agreement is reached in an irreconcilable differences divorce, the
divorce can be finalized without the attorneys having to appear
before her to present the agreed order. The proposed order can be
submitted electronically, and she can sign it.

Judge Goree has a weekly ex parte session at which attorneys can
bring orders to be signed. She says that she frequently has more
attorneys waiting to see her than she can accommodate. With
electronic filing, “They don’t have to come in and sit and wait for
an hour,” Judge Goree said. “They don’t have that drive time. … I
can do a lot of it in my office rather than having the attorney come
back to court. Hopefully that will save them time. It should save the
client money because they are paying by the hour. I am able to do the
work more efficiently.”

Judge Goree and Judge Lynchard said they sense apprehension from some
of the attorneys who are unfamiliar with electronic filing. “Once
they get used to it, they will embrace it,” Judge Lynchard said.

Free training for attorneys is provided by MEC staff at the Gartin
Justice Building, 450 High Street in Jackson. Online registration is
available at this link: http://courts.ms.gov/mec/
mec_attorney_training.html. Training dates are expected to be set in
April and May.

Three hours of instruction includes application of the Mississippi
Electronic Courts, capabilities and functions of the MEC system,
registration to use the MEC system, duties of the attorney in his or
her official dealings with the court system, and an overview of the
Mississippi Electronic Courts Administrative Procedures as adopted by
the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Nearly half of the attorneys in the state are registered to use the
MEC system. More than 3,400 attorneys currently have access to e-
filing – 48 percent of the approximately 7,050 active practicing
attorneys in the state. Also, more than 1,200 non-attorneys are
currently registered to use the system to access court records.

The Mississippi Electronic Courts program, under the supervision of
the Mississippi Supreme Court, is adapted from the electronic filing
system used in federal district courts. Attorneys and their staffs
may file and view documents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Judges
using MEC can access documents at any time and location via the
Internet, allowing them to prepare for hearings and draft orders and
opinions without waiting for paper files.