Electronic Filing for the Masses

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It’s getting easier to conduct court business online. Court systems haven’t been as quick to set up online transactions as, say, banks or booksellers. Yet it’s not new; see our 2009 blog posts What is E-Filing and Paying Court Fines Online. And it’s getting better.

Take electronic filing of court documents: More and more court systems are adding this capability. New Jersey even has mandatory electronic filing for some types of cases. But court-run electronic filing is not expanding fast enough to satisfy the demand from law firms looking efficiency. In response, a number of private companies now offer electronic filing services. Texas has a statewide system that lets you choose from a list of private service providers.

Since most court documents are filed by lawyers, most electronic filing systems have been designed to meet their needs. That means that electronic filing hasn’t been available for small claims cases or in local courts with lighter case loads. But that’s changing. For example, Georgia’s Magistrate Courts are limited-jurisdiction courts that mostly handle local small claims, landlord-tenant, and bad check cases. There is a Magistrate Court in every county in Georgia. They are “people’s courts” in which parties often represent themselves. Now, many of them offer simple electronic filing designed for self-represented individuals.

The system is run by a private company that partners with the Magistrate Courts, and has a separate web page for each participating court. The filer pays a processing fee with a credit card, instead of having to travel to the courthouse or track down the required forms and contact information. In return, the web page provides a list of actions for which electronic filing is available; these usually include small claims and landlord-tenant, but can also include such actions as wage garnishment, writs of possession, or final judgments. Each court-specific web page also includes detailed information about the different types of actions, court procedure, filing fees required by the court, and instructions for completing the online filing. Right now, the system only covers 64 of Georgia’s 159 Magistrate Courts, but it’s growing.

Private companies have stepped in because many courts don’t have the staff or resources to set up and run an electronic filing system. Unfortunately, that means they also don’t have the staff or resources to maintain a website with a link to the electronic filing service – or even a notice that electronic filing is available.  If you need to file, you can always call the court clerk and ask if they offer electronic filing. For an even faster answer, simply check our Georgia Self-Help page. Scroll down to your county and look for a link to Magistrate Court Electronic Filing.

By the way, CourtReference can also help you find out how to pay your traffic  fines online. Continuing with Georgia as an example, several different kinds of courts – State, Probate, Municipal – can handle traffic cases. Many of them offer online payment of your traffic fine, through their own system or through one of several competing private systems.  As with Magistrate Courts, many of them do not have a website with a link to their online fine payment system.  To find out how to pay, just go to our Online Fine Payment page and scroll down to your county and court.

Keep watching CourtReference for new ways to work with courts online. Happy filing (or slightly-less-unhappy fine payment)!

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