Cook County court officials are looking to put a temporary halt on mandatory e-filing ahead of a Jan. 1 statewide deadline.

Circuit Clerk Dorothy A. Brown told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin that a petition was filed Thursday evening requesting a one-year e-filing extension. The decision will be made by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Brown said she felt an extension was necessary after Texas-based Tyler Technologies, the developer of the Odyssey eFileIL system, told the circuit court that the payment processing system and other central functions, including bulk filing, would not be ready for operation by the deadline.

Instead of rushing to get the changes completed or require employees to undertake several workarounds, Brown said she decided it would be best to wait.

“I just felt that in order for us to have an effective, efficient and fully functioning e-file system that would be at a level of excellence for our citizens, it would be wise to request an extension,” Brown said.

The requested extension would hold off mandatory e-filing for one year, Brown said.

The Illinois Supreme Court announced two years ago that civil documents, such as lawsuits or divorce petitions, have to be filed electronically by Jan. 1, 2018.

If the extension is granted, those filing in the civil division will have the option to e-file with the current system but they will not be required to do so.

Brown said she recommends, if the extension is granted, that attorneys take the next year to ease into the system, because e-filing will be here eventually.

As members of the legal community heard about the circuit court’s request, many had differing thoughts on the possibility of an extension.

Robert A. Clifford, founder and senior partner at Clifford Law Offices, said his office was disappointed by the request given the “enormous public resources” that have gone into creating and implementing the system.

“We hope that the Cook County [Circuit] Clerk’s Office is getting it right because it’s really important. I have hundreds and hundreds of clients that we serve in the Cook County system, so we want the system to be accurate and work well,” he said. “If more time is needed to perfect it we just have to begrudgingly accept that.”

Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. legal assistant Lynne DeRolf said even if there is an extension, her firm is ready.

The firm, with offices in both Chicago and Waukegan, has been e-filing for at least two years.

“Our office has been prepared to eliminate being able to go over there [to the clerk’s office to file],” DeRolf said. “If they need additional time to work with the system, it’s more important that the end result be efficient and dependable.”

Casey L. Westover, a partner in Reed Smith’s Complex Litigation Group, agreed.

“The [Electronic Case Files] system in federal court has greatly simplified the practice of litigation, and most lawyers I know are looking forward to an e-filing system in state court that brings the same efficiencies and convenience,” Westover said. “But if the mandatory system goes live before it is ready, the result will likely be the exact opposite. I think an extension that allows time to put a fully functional system in place isn’t just prudent, it’s necessary.”

Mark E. Christensen of Christensen Ehret said e-filing is ultimately a good thing, but they should also get it right the first time.

“I’m not surprised there have been some issues, it’s a massive undertaking,” Christensen said. “I would hope that it’s not delayed indefinitely.”

Cook County is not the only one to have requested an exemption, Brown said. In November, DuPage County requested an extension until Jan. 1, 2021, according to court records.

In their petition for an extension, the 18th Judicial Circuit said the many feature enhancements to its e-filing system would not be available by July 1, adding that the implementation would have a “negative impact on the operations of the court system and its users.”

Electronic filing was first implemented in the collar counties and in St. Louis’ eastern suburbs in 2003.

The proposed e-file changes aim to reduce paper and save time and money. The move away from paper-based filings has been in the works for nearly a decade and a half.

E-filing was required in civil cases in both the appellate court and Supreme Court in July.

The Cook County Circuit Clerk’s Office entered a contract with its current system, On-Line Information Services, in July 2008. That contract is set to expire June 30, 2018.

They already offer e-filing in seven divisions, beginning with the Law Division in 2009.

Tyler Technologies, signed a separate $36.4 million contract with Cook County in April to develop an updated electronic case management system for the court over a four year time period ending in April 2021.

“The clerk had expressed a preference to start e-filing through eFileIL after implementation of the new case management system,” according to the petition.

Tyler already supports the electronic court systems in at least 90 of the state’s 102 counties, according to information a company vice president shared at an April meeting in Chicago.

In addition to the eFileIL service operated through Tyler, which does not charge for additional costs beyond the court’s own filing fees, law firms and pro se litigants have the option of using a different electronic filing service provider, or EFSP, to handle their filings.

Several of the approved EFSPs charge anywhere from $1 to $3.99 per filing, but offer added features like bulk filing or 24/7 call-center support.

Brown said while they were not able to meet the upcoming deadlines, she feels proud of the work her staff and Tyler Technologies has done thus far.

“With our being the largest county in the state just to say that we were able to get to this point is amazing,” she said.