Forget Orange and Blue or Crimson and White—Go Green!
Birmingham Civil Division Going Paperless with Changes in Filing Procedures
While we do not know the ultimate outcome of the fiscal woes of the State of Alabama this year, we have learned from history that our courts will not be adequately funded. Adequate court funding may occur when we get a new Alabama Constitution, merit selection of judges and fair tax reform or hell freezes over. In the meantime, we must deal with the reality of court funding.
Court funding cutbacks are critical
We remain ever hopeful, but if the legislative and executive branches fail us, we may be addressing further cut-backs in court personnel later this year. With over 97 percent of the court's budget being for personnel costs, when we lose funding, we lose employees. The number of employees in the clerk's offices is currently about one-half of what the studies show is needed to efficiently run those offices. In Birmingham, our clerk's office has never completely recovered from the financial crisis of 2004, when many employees were laid off. Since then, the clerk's office has been dealing with its normal caseload of paper filings, while making the conversion to electronic filing. In effect, they have been keeping two separate filing systems and that has exacerbated the personnel shortage.
E-filing results in cost savings
In 2005, we began electronic filing in the Alabama court system. While there has been some expected resistance to change, in most circuits the conversion to electronic filing has gone smoothly. The benefits of electronic filing and electronic access to case information have resulted in significant cost savings. Some of the clerical work has been shifted from the clerk to the judges and when the conversion to all electronic filing is completed, we expect that the clerk will be able to function with fewer employees.
Birmingham's successful conversion to e-filing
In Birmingham, we officially began e-filing motions and orders in 2006 and we started e-filing complaints in January 2007. The lawyers have eagerly adopted the program, primarily through registration for AlaFile and subscriptions to AlaCourt. Within a few months, the Birmingham division took the lead in the number of electronic filings in the state. Our district courts have entered far more electronic orders than any other Alabama courts. In 2009, we had more e-filed complaints than paper complaints in the circuit court. We can say that the conversion to e-filing in the civil division has been successful. Those who have tried it have been pleasantly surprised at how simple it is to use.
By court order, no more paper files
With the improvements in the system through e-filing, coupled with the need to make the courts operate more efficiently with less funding and fewer personnel, we are ready to go "paperless." (This is in quotation marks because many of us will continue to print documents since we are accustomed to reading from a printed page rather than from a screen.)
Effective May 3, 2010, the Circuit Clerk, Civil Division of the District Court and Civil Division of the Circuit Court in Birmingham, will no longer create paper files for newly-filed cases. The Case Action Summary, the pleadings, motions and orders will be available through AlaFile and AlaCourt. Additionally, paper copies of requested documents or files will be available in the clerk's office upon payment of the appropriate fee. Lawyers will be able to file cases, request leave to conduct discovery, submit motions and obtain consent and default judgments without leaving their own offices. It will avoid those last-minute runs to the courthouse to meet filing deadlines.
A polite request: register with AlaFile
There is another related issue. Most orders entered by the courts are now served on lawyers by e-mail when the order is e-filed by the court. However, when a lawyer or a self-represented party has not registered for AlaFile, the judge's office must mail a paper copy of the order. The cost to the courts for this mailing is tremendous in paper, copying, envelopes, postage, and clerical time. Therefore, we are strongly encouraging all lawyers who practice in Birmingham to register with AlaFile for the receipt of notices and orders.
There are no fees or ongoing charges for the registration and use of AlaFile for receipt of notices and orders. All that is needed is a working e-mail address. The registered attorney will receive court orders and notices immediately upon the entry of the order by the judge. If the lawyer does not "do" e-mail, it is suggested that a member of his/her staff can register.
AlaFile is fast, economical and (mostly) free
By registering for AlaFile, service copies will be transmitted electronically allowing for faster and more economical service. Additionally, registration will allow for electronic filing of documents via AlaFile. Electronic filing is free unless a filing fee is required by statute. In that case, the filing fee must be paid via a credit card through the application at the time of filing. For additional fees, lawyers may take advantage of Alacourt which provides online access in many cases to images of case filings and case information.
You owe it to yourself and your clients
The registration is simple. Go to https://alafile.alacourt.gov and then choose "Register" in the upper right corner. Complete the registration form online and submit. If you need help registering, call the IT Support Help Desk at the Administrative Office of Courts, (866) 954-9411, option 1 and then option 4. If there are lawyers who do not have access to a computer (or electricity), the court may exempt him/her from registration.
We appreciate the cooperation of both the bench and bar of Birmingham in the on-going effort to improve our legal system. By working together, we will maintain the efficiency of our Birmingham courts, even in the face of increasing budget cuts. We welcome your ideas.
–Presiding Judge J. Scott Vowell, Tenth Judicial Circuit of Alabama
ASB PHV Application Process Is Now Paperless (and Painless!)
The Pro Hac Vice (PHV) filing process has gone from paper to online. Instead of sending a check and hard copy of the Verified Application for Admission to Practice Pro Hac Vice to the Alabama State Bar, an out-of-state attorney can now request that their local counsel file their PHV Application through AlaFile, including electronic payment of the $300 application fee.
Once local counsel has filed this motion, it will go electronically to the PHV Clerk's office at the Alabama State Bar for review.
•If all of the information on the application is correct, the motion will be docketed and sent electronically to the Judge assigned to the case for ruling.
•If the information in the application is incorrect or incomplete, a Deficiency Notice will be emailed to the filer (local counsel). A corrected application may be resubmitted by local counsel via AlaFile.
The PHV Clerk will then review the corrected application and, once accepted, the motion will be docketed and sent electronically to the Judge assigned to the case for ruling.
Please refer to the "Step-by-Step Process," in order to file the PHV application in the correct location in the Alafile system. (It should no longer be filed under 'Motions Not Requiring Fee).