Printer Friendly

Courts, clerks told to work out their e-portal differences.

Florida clerks of court and the court system had better work out a dispute about who will control the Internet portal to the mandated new statewide e-filing system for the courts or the Legislature will, a top state senator has warned.

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, gave that caution November 5 after listening to 11th Circuit Judge Judith Kreeger, chair of the Florida Court Technology Commission, outline what the courts are doing to implement mandates to begin an e-filing system for the courts this year. He said failure to reach an agreement could put the e-portal and e-filing at the bottom of the Legislature's funding priorities.

"This is a very divisive issue and we're getting ready to face a very challenging session that involves more than the clerks and the courts," Crist said, referring to the state's expected $2.6 billion budget shortfall. "We have to get this worked out with you and the clerks before the session. If we don't get it worked out before the session, then we will not address this until the end of session, after we have taken care of every other issue."

Crist made his comments at a meeting of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, which he chairs. He said he had met with Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, and Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means Chair Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, on the issue and they agreed with that approach. But at the same time, Crist said he and his committee were willing to listen to both sides.

Clerks have said they have a portal nearly ready to go, developed through their statewide association. The court system, meanwhile, issued a request for information and based on responses to that may issue an invitation to negotiate for a portal by the end of this month. (See story in the November 1 Bar News.)

The November 5 meeting came after meetings among lawmakers and clerks, lawmakers and court officials, and clerks and court officials.

Crist said it shouldn't matter to the courts if the clerks run the portal, as long as all the information needed by judges and case managers is provided.

"Current law and current policy, unless changed, is that clerks collect the information and maintain it," he said. "If all these terms and conditions are met satisfactorily, then it shouldn't make a difference on who collects it. Since it is law, we are going to be working from that perspective unless we change it."

Crist said the courts have said the portal must provide information needed to efficiently process cases, in a uniform format statewide, and in a consistent manner. The information must also meet the requirements of the Sunshine law, he said, but must also provide security to protect private information and protect the data from access by unauthorized persons.

Kreeger agreed those criteria would meet the courts' needs, but she questioned whether the clerks would meet those goals because they had chosen to run the portal through a for-profit company controlled by the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers.

"A private entity will not meet that need," she said. "That's our interest, making sure it is transparent and accountable."

She also said the courts would be required to go through a competitive selection process if the portal is run by a private company instead of a public agency.

"This morning we had what we felt was a constructive meeting that we felt was a first step in working together with the clerks," Kreeger said. "We addressed these issues head on with the clerks and they're beginning to respond. We're hopeful we're going to be able to work together over the coming weeks, so they can make a decision on whether they are going to house the portal in a for-profit corporation."

After the meeting, Kreeger reiterated the court system's main concern is having the portal run by a for-profit entity.

"In the informal meeting we had, we said, 'Look, the ball is in your park. Decide whether you want to put it in a public entity or you're going to keep it in the private for-profit [company] in which case we have to go through this procurement process,'" she said.

Crist said court officials had expressed concerns that by housing the portal in a for-profit company, the clerks might be expecting to make money on the service. He said, though, he and legislative staffers would be exploring that and any money made would be subject to legislative appropriation. He also said clerks had claimed they did not anticipate making money from the portal.

No one representing the FACC testified at the committee meeting, but afterwards Sarasota County Clerk of Court Karen Rushing said the association could meet all of the courts' concerns about formatting, access, openness, security, and other issues.

"We basically said those are elements of concern ... and when implementing the portal we will address all of them," she said. "We're going to work until we get it done."

"Running the portal is just a method of delivering a document to the clerk," added Fred Baggett, general counsel for the FACC. "Our biggest challenge is knowing what information they [the courts] want and how they want it delivered. There's no reason we shouldn't get it worked out."

In her remarks to the committee, Judge Kreeger emphasized, "We want the e-portal and e-filing to be as open and transparent as the rest of the courts' operations," she said, "The judges need the information that the clerks gather not only for case processing, but also in order to manage our dockets and in order to account to the people for our discharge of our responsibilities."


The e-filing system will mean many records will no longer have paper backups, Kreeger said, and "if all the information that I need ... isn't captured by the portal coming in without paper it's lost and gone forever. I can't underline enough the importance that the courts be involved in designing the portal."

By Gary Blankenship

Senior Editor
COPYRIGHT 2009 Florida Bar
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Blankenship, Gary
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Nov 15, 2009
Previous Article:The long wait for justice: freed after 27 years in prison, Dillon still believes in the system.
Next Article:Court grapples with how best to handle foreclosures.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |