Moffat County courts going paperless -- slowly

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Trekking down to the courts to retrieve legal documents is slowly becoming a thing of the past in Moffat County thanks to an electronic filing system that slowly is gaining momentum locally.

Clerks in Moffat County's combined courts recently received training to become more fluent with the system that allows attorneys and court employees to file paperless pleadings.

The benefits, said Diana Meyer, clerk of courts for Moffat County's combined courts, is that the system saves on employees' workloads. She expects the clerk's office to embrace "e-filing" by the beginning of 2005.

"You don't have to enter as much information into the computer," she said. "That little step is taken care of anyway."

E-filing documents in Colorado judicial systems has been in effect since about 1997, but the trend caught on more quickly in the larger metropolitan areas. A statewide system was adopted in 2001 that allows courts and attorneys to link up through the Internet accessible Lexis-Nexis database. Some courts in Denver and Boulder no longer accept legal documents filed other than electronically. However, the system largely is limited to civil, domestic relations, probate and water court cases.

Sandra King, a certified paralegal with the law office of Ralph Cantafio, said her business uses e-filing because it saves time. E-filing benefits attorneys, because a day's filing deadline is extended until midnight.

"It's becoming standard," King said.

Yet, King thought there was more of hesitancy in rural areas about e-filing as well as among attorneys who aren't computer savvy.

Tracey Epley, clerk for Routt County's combined courts, said e-filing became more commonplace after the area upgraded to a speedy Internet connection a couple of years ago.

The system saves time as clerks file cases, but downloading and converting electronic files to paper can be as tedious as working solely with paper files.

"It's the wave of the future, but it's got some positives and drawbacks," Epley said. "Now were seeing a lot of paper clerical work eliminated. It can save on postage and envelopes if you have to send out a lot of documents. Now that's all done electronically."

On the flip side, she said, "It's scary if the T-1 line (Internet) goes out."

Last year, 18 U.S. District Courts were reportedly on board with e-filing systems, and the rest should be live by next year. Although the trend in catching on -- Colorado is one of the country's trailblazers -- the adoption rate of e-filing among all courts is relatively low. In 2003, 1.4 percent of the country's 17,000 courts were on board with e-filing, according to the online magazine, Modern Practice.

King said a nationwide adopted e-filing system could benefit the public and legal systems. It can speed up the waiting time of ordering documents from faraway courts, and streamline payment arrangements.

"Just looking at the mail time and everything, being online is so much more convenient," she said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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