The Unreported Opinion on Maryland’s Electronic Courts

Change is good. The Maryland Judiciary’s move to an electronic system by their vendor Tyler Technologies was the right one in these days and times. It’s better for the environment (less trees/paper), and it’s convenience of being able to file from your computer is unmatched in terms of convenience when you compare it to sending by paper and courier. As is the case with most new systems, it is a work in progress.

 

As a pro-se (self represented) person, I’ve had the experience of e-filing into the new system. I had mixed feelings about e-filing, because any electronic system allows information to be transmitted that a person may not really want to have relayed. Examples are: the IP address you are using to interface with the system, and various other bits of meta data that computer files provide and unbeknownst to you are transmitting. I suspect that in the coming years as we become more and more technology-driven, people will start questioning the transmission and collection of such data to see how it’s being used in ways that we can’t yet see or imagine. Though, I can imagine! Knowing the name of the computer, the MAC address of it, etc is what I consider to be PRIVATE info. There’s lots I could write on this topic, but I’ll just write “Beware” for now, and leave it at that.

 

One of the things that the e-filing system really showcased for me was the extremely significant role that the work at the Maryland Circuit Court Clerks have upon a party’s filings. When you took your paper filings to their office, there wouldn’t be much time that went by before you’d see the filing appear on the case docket. It made sense, because presumably someone would take the day’s filings and then input them into the software after checking that they were filed according to court rules. But an interesting thing has happened ever since becoming part of Team Electronic Court

 

The time gap between the e-filing and when it appears on the docket seems to have GROWN. I’ve witnessed it in my own case, and a friend reported the same thing in his. Why is that important? If there is a Motion filed by your opponent sitting on a judge’s desk and you file a response to it but it takes time for the Clerk to release/approve your e-filing, is there a chance that the judge will rule on the Motion on his desk without knowing that there’s a response sitting in the inbox?

 

YES, there is.

 

I don’t work for any judge so I can’t say for certain what their policies are, but I can say from experience that it’s nerve-wracking to know that you file something and are waiting a week or longer to have it appear on the docket when you know a judge can/may rule upon something without having the benefit of hearing your response because they aren’t (yet) aware that you filed one. Clerks have told me that they are “working on filings from  X day” a week or more after the actual date. The solution? Right now it’s to call the judge’s chamber to alert them to the filing and hope/pray the info gets transmitted to the judge timely.

 

Perhaps it has ALWAYS been this way in terms of a gap and the possibility of judges not knowing info they need or should know before ruling, but it seems more significant now. I could just imagine a judge looking at the docket like I was (I’m assuming that they do that, but I may be wrong), seeing that there wasn’t anything on the docket and making the assumption that nothing had been filed, and then ruling. When I made the Clerk aware of my concerns, she seemed to listen but then defaulted to essentially “we can’t skip ahead; we are still working on filings done 7 days before yours”.

 

So, if you didn’t know before to check the docket to see and verify when a filing gets approved or to let the judge know to hold off because there’s more coming… NOW YA KNOW!

 

Another surprise was the time-gap that exists when filing into a case in which the “service contact” was someone who chose to NOT be on the public list of contacts. What that means is that you have to wait for the person to ALLOW themselves to be served in the e-filing system before you can actually serve them electronically. You could be filing a document to the clerk/court, but unless the service contact has consented to having their contact info (email) attached to the case for you to see, you will have to send your copy in paper format in the US mail. Meanwhile, it’s not like they can’t see that you did file something, and have time to respond and file the response before your copy even gets in the mail to them! Additionally, the system allows any party in the case to simply uncheck the service contact name/box for filings, which makes it that the person won’t actually get the filing (because they will be left off of it). Clerks have always had this ability to mark parties to NOT get paper mailings, so this functionality has merely been expanded to parties in electronic cases now.

 

Finally, there’s the filed documents for a case. As a pro se party to a case, it’s insulting (still) to get court personnel who treat you like you have no business being in the court or using the new electronic toys. With all that the Maryland judiciary writes about the increasing numbers of self-represented people using the courts, you would think that they would have training their personnel better so that they aren’t looking at or interacting with the self-represented like they have three eyes.

 

Here’s where I write a personal note to Judge Mary Ellen Barbera who is the figure-head for not only the MDEC initiative but also the judiciary and its position on the self-represented Marylanders using the courts:

You put it in your State of the Judiciary info that you are aware that the number of self-represented has been growing for years; you also have stated that you are dedicated to addressing their needs to ensure fair access to court services for them and all; you should have someone checking over the language used by the judiciary to ensure that you aren’t leaving the self-represented behind. Trying to gain access to the documents in my own case that I FILED AND  INITIATED should not be as hard as it was! Not one of the people I interfaced with by phone could understand how I could possibly be requesting access when I wasn’t an attorney or from an attorney’s office! Your drop-down menu as I’ve taken a screenshot of below shows, makes the assumption that one’s role couldn’t possibly be anything other than an attorney! I went weeks without access to documents, so I hope you’ll take a look at that!

 

See, there are more people with “roles” than just attorneys, Mary Ellen:

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