J. Timothy Eaton
J. Timothy Eaton
Dorothy A. Brown
Dorothy A. Brown

After expanding electronic filing across nearly all civil divisions of the Cook County Circuit Court, Circuit Clerk Dorothy A. Brown wants to make it mandatory for all attorneys.

The circuit clerk has sent a letter to Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita B. Garman recommending the high court develop a policy requiring e-filing in Cook County by 2016.

The letter comes as e-filing use has grown rapidly in the past year. Brown’s proposal is likely to receive support from a prominent bar group.

“If electronic filing of court documents is made mandatory … it would aid in the administration of justice and the success of our efforts to promote efficiency and the prioritization of customer convenience,” Brown wrote in the letter.

The court launched a pilot e-filing program in 2009 in the Law Division’s commercial litigation section. In April, the Supreme Court approved an expansion to all civil divisions.

The court plans to complete that expansion this summer when e-filing goes live in the County Division, Brown wrote.

The e-filing system had 20,852 voluntary users as of last month — up from the 13,600 reported in July.

In 2013, litigants e-filed in 31,800 cases. Through Friday, there have been 13,002 e-filed cases in 2014.

A 2016 deadline, Brown wrote, would allow her office time to conduct training for attorneys, judges and courthouse staff on using the system as well as a “re-engineering” of her office’s operations to shift employees and computers to processing e-files.

“As the office … is already understaffed, the efficiencies brought through mandatory [e-filing] will allow us to have an even more efficient operation even with the attrition and budget cuts that normally occur,” a clerk spokeswoman said in a statement.

Under Brown’s proposal, pro se litigants would keep the option to file traditionally, as would attorneys granted hardship exemptions in individual circumstances.

J. Timothy Eaton, president of The Chicago Bar Association and a partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP, said a committee on e-filing is meeting with the CBA Board of Managers on Thursday and will likely recommend that the association support mandatory e-filing.

“Those of us who practice in the federal system, we like it,” Eaton said. “It’s efficient, it’s quicker and I hope that’s where the state system heads.”

Eaton said he received feedback from a survey conducted last summer by Circuit Judge Lorna E. Propes that indicated attorneys, even ones not using the system now, would be willing to use it if their concerns are addressed.

“I think the conclusions drawn are that it will only work if it’s mandatory across the board, and we need to address the cost issues,” he said.

Currently, lawyers who file paperwork with the court over the Internet pay a filing fee plus added e-filing costs.

The clerk adds a $2.95 convenience charge, a $1 credit card fee and a surcharge equal to 3.9 percent of the filing fee. After payment and processing, lawyers get back a stamped copy.

Brown would consider adjusting the fee structure if the Supreme Court mandates e-filing, her spokeswoman said.

In October 2012, the Supreme Court set standards and principles for e-filing programs. In those rules, the high court stated that applications from circuit courts should come from the chief judge and court clerk.

Cook County Circuit Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans’ office confirmed that he received a copy of Brown’s letter and said he plans to meet with her next week to discuss it.

Joseph R. Tybor, a Supreme Court spokesman, confirmed that Garman received the letter. He said the court has encouraged and supported e-filing efforts for several years.