Nov 22, 2019 By Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Top Stories Document numbering system aims to help judges, lawyers sort through case files Imagine a fellow judge has a family emergency and asks a colleague to cover a hearing. It involves one summary judgment motion, one motion in limine, one motion to produce, a notice of hearing, and maybe another motion for good measure.It’s a complex case that involves claims, counterclaims, and third-party plaintiffs and defendants.The replacement judge goes online and opens the case file and discovers there are multiple summary judgment motions as well as several of each of the other types of motions. Only one of each is the subject of the upcoming hearing.There are no other identifiers on the motions, so the judge slogs through opening and looking through dozens of motions to figure out the handful needed that day.That actually happened to 12th Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll, and the same thing could happen to a lawyer asked to cover for a colleague at the hearing.Carroll took his concerns to the Florida Courts Technology Commission, which discussed them at the FCTC’s Portal Subcommittee on November 14. The full FCTC heard the matter the following day and conceptually approved a motion asking clerks of court to affix document identification numbers (DIN) on new filings at the time they are docketed.That would put those unique numbers on the documents earlier in the process, but it would still come after the documents are distributed to clerks and served on other parties by the court system’s statewide e-filing portal.“We’re talking about putting on the actual document that’s filed with the court its docket number from the progress docket, as it’s filed [in the case file by clerks],” said 17th Circuit Court Judge Martin Bidwill, chair of the Portal Subcommittee.“Currently, the way it works now is that the filer files the document through the [court system’s statewide online] portal and the portal then routes to the [appropriate court] clerk’s CMS [case management system],” he said. “Before it gets to the clerks is when it’s served, so when it’s served on the parties on the case, it does not have anything that happens after it arrives in the clerk’s CMS [including docketing information].”That earlier numbering would help judges when they call up cases on their judicial viewers, but would not assist lawyers who get documents served by the portal. They would have to access the appropriate clerk’s online records to get that data.“The option of trying to put a docket number on at the portal level is a much bigger task then having a docket number put on by the clerk,” Bidwill said. “Ultimately what we have was a motion passed to modify the current document numbering standard to require the clerks of court to stamp the document number on all new filings at the time of docketing.”Clerks, he said, were not sure how long it would take to make that change and would also require a specific technical standard from the FCTC. The motion approved the concept and it directed the commission’s CMS Subcommittee to develop a specific standard by the FCTC’s March meeting.“The whole point of the document identification number is to have common language that the judges, the litigants, and the clerks can use,” Judge Carroll told the FCTC after its vote. “The document identification number is the only common language that will exist [to help parties and the courts manage cases]. So, the question is how do you tell the litigants about the document identification number? Do you do it at the time it goes through the portal, which is option one, or at the time it comes into the case management system, which is option two..?“Option one is the most beneficial, but if option two is obtainable in the near future and doesn’t cost a lot of money, I would love to see option two.”At the Portal Subcommittee meeting, Melvin Cox, the IT director for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, which provides technical support for the portal, and Carolyn Weber, the portal project manager, said because of the way the electronic filing system is designed Carroll’s option one would be difficult and expensive.They explained that the portal is designed as a conduit to accept electronic filings and pass them through to Florida’s 67 clerks of court, who use 10 different case management systems. That flow is one way and the portal is not designed to accept information from clerks and pass it back to filers, they said, and massive programming and other changes would be necessary to accomplish that.Plus, Cox and Weber said, there is a delay between when clerks receive filings and when they docket them (statewide the average is slightly less than a day). Currently, the portal instantly sends document copies to a service list specified by the filer, and that would be complicated if the portal had to wait for clerks to assign document identification numbers.
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