It’s been a while since we’ve discussed electronic filing of court documents, so it’s time to note some recent “e-filing” developments. Our original 2009 post provides a good introduction to the process, and the reasons it’s being implemented. In a nutshell, filing court documents electronically saves time, money, and paper. Instead of typing up a form from scratch – or completing a fillable PDF document online and printing it out – all the work is done on your computer. Instead of then delivering that paper document to the court clerk, you simply transmit it from your computer. In addition to the obvious benefit to parties in the case, having the files in electronic form also makes it easier for the court system to store and retrieve the information.
Our 2010 followup post noted that the demand from attorneys for e-filing services led to the rise of several private companies that provide that service. In fact, nearly all e-filing services are now provided by private companies. That post also noted that while earlier e-filing was designed for use by attorneys, the benefits for individuals representing themselves were obvious. That led some of those private e-filing providers – with the permission of the courts they served – to start offering e-filing to individual self-represented parties.
As noted in our 2010 post, Georgia was one of the first states to open up e-filing to self-represented individuals in its Magistrate Courts, which mostly handle local small claims and landlord/tenant cases. At that time, there was only one provider; now there are several. Some Georgia Magistrate Courts offer a choice of services. For example, check out Morgan County Magistrate Court (scroll down to the our “Self help, legal research, general information” resource category for link so the e-filing services).
Most e-filing service providers in Georgia serve more than one court, so you would follow a link on the court’s website to the service provider’s court-specific web page. Or you could follow the advice in our 2010 post and ask the court clerk about e-filing. One service provider in Georgia offers e-filing for Magistrate Courts in multiple Georgia counties, all from the same home page. Check out Cook County Magistrate Court resources for a link to that provider. Better yet, check out Bibb County Magistrate Court resources for a links to both that multi-county provider and another provider (yes, another court that offers a choice!).
Keep checking CourtReference for future links to e-filing services – and many other court-related resources – that are geared for use by parties without an attorney.
Just a quick update on a new way courts are taking advantage of technology. One of the first and most widely used is online payment of traffic and parking tickets, which we covered here, here, and here. Next up were the ubiquitous red light camera tickets, which can also be paid online.
Since some people don’t want to pay their tickets without a fight, some courts allow tickets to be contested online without having to show up in court. We’ve even seen examples of courts allowing some hearings to be held by telephone or online instead of in the courtroom
We’ve also discovered some apps – here and here – that allow you to look up case information on your mobile device. We should also mention the ability to participate in court hearings by video or Skype, and to stream audio of court sessions.
What if you’ve received some tickets and you want to just pay them and get it over with, but you don’t remember how many tickets, or what they were for, or how much the fine is? If your tickets are from Cook County, Georgia – where traffic tickets are handled by Probate Court of Cook County, you can go the court’s Payment Information page, enter your mobile number, click a button, and receive a text containing all the information you need to pay up.
Keep checking Court Reference for links to your local court’s website and related online resources.
Here at CourtReference, we’ve quite familiar with the court systems in every state. Unless you have business with courts in many different states, you may not be aware of how different court systems can be from state to state.
The basic structure is not so different; each state usually has a trial court in which the parties argue both the facts and the law in front of a judge or jury. The judge decides how to apply the law, and the judge or jury decides which facts are true and which are not – in other words, which party is telling the truth.
If one party is not satisfied with the outcome of the case in the trial court, they can appeal to a higher level court. Many states have another level, usually called the state Supreme Court, to which a decision of the intermediate appellate court can be appealed.
That’s the basic structure in each state: a trial court and one or more levels of courts of appeal. Since the great majority of cases are heard in the trial court, and very few people who encounter the court system end up in a court of appeals, CourtReference only provides contact information for trial courts, links to trial court websites, and links to online resources related to trial courts.
Although the trial court is the first and usually the only court you will encounter in each state, there is usually more than one type of trial court in each state. We explored some examples from California, Michigan, and Texas in our post Which Court Do I Go To? To summarize that post, we noted that California has a single type of trial court (Superior Court) in each county, Michigan has four types (Circuit, District, Probate, Municipal), with each hearing different types of cases. Although California has a single Superior Court in each county, that court is organized into specialized Divisions in most counties. Although each Texas county has several trial court types (see below), we only mentioned District Courts in Texas because many Texas counties have multiple District Courts that hear different types of cases.
Confused yet? Just wait, there’s more! There are two very basic types of trial courts: trial courts “of record” and trial courts that are not of record. “Of record” means that the court proceedings are recorded and a transcript can be obtained. On appeal from a court of record, the facts of the case are not re-tried; they’re in the transcript, and the judge’s decisions about the law are the only parts of the trial that may be challenged. On appeal from a court that is not of record, there is no record of the facts and arguments, so the whole case is tried over again. Courts that are not of record are mostly Municipal Courts, which have jurisdiction over a limited geographical area and very specific types of cases.
As an experiment, we decided to compare the court systems in each state to see which states and the most – and least – number of trial court types. We only counted general trial courts; we did not count specialized courts that only hear one type of case, such as Tax Courts, Water Courts, or Workers’ Compensation Courts. We also skipped courts that only exist in a single county or city, such as Denver Probate Court, Philadelphia Municipal Court, New Orleans Traffic Court, Marion County (Indiana) Small Claims Court, and St. Joseph County (Indiana) Probate Court. Finally, we skipped “Specialty Courts” such as Drug Courts and Mental Health Courts, which are generally not separate courts but are special divisions of an actual court.
Just how different are the number? Many states have only one or two types of trial courts: Alaska, Arkansas, California (one Superior Court, but with separate Divisions), Connecticut, District of Columbia (one Superior Court, but with separate Divisions), Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire (Superior Court, plus Circuit Court with separate Divisions), North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
Most of the rest have three or four. A few have five or six. Who’s the winner? New York has nine different types of trial courts! We could ignore those that only exist in New York City proper (Civil Courts of the City of New York, Criminal Courts of the City of New York), but that still leaves seven: Supreme Court (which is actually a trial court in New York; the higher courts are Appellate Division and Court of Appeals), Family Court, Surrogate’s Court, County Court, District Court, City Court and Town and Village Courts.
If we ignore those two New York City courts, then Georgia is the winner with eight types of trial courts: Superior Court, State Court, Juvenile Court, Probate Court, Magistrate Court, Civil Court, Municipal Court, and Recorder’s Court. Not far behind are Tennessee and Texas, each with seven different types of trial courts.