An Update on E-Filing in Contra Costa Superior Court
This article was written from an interview with Andrew Adams, Court Operations Manager Civil and Small Claims and Antwana Fortenberry, Court Operations Manager, Family Law.
Andrew has been with the courts for 17 years. He has worked in Criminal, Juvenile, Civil, Probate and Appeals. Antwana has been with the court for 29 years. She has worked in Traffic, Criminal, Civil, Family Law, Small Claims, Jury and Court Records.
One year after E-Filing was launched, we at the Contra Costa Lawyer wanted to ask, how is it going? Where are we in the implementation?
E-Filing is going pretty smoothly. We have learned a lot. And there have been growing pains for sure. The E-Filing rules have been amended five times so that we can provide updated rules! As we learn, we make changes. For example, ex parte requests generally are not allowed to be E-Filed. Now, ex parte requests that do not need hearing, such as a request for publication, are allowed to be E-Filed.
Before E-Filing, there was a six-month backlog in Limited Civil. Now it’s less than two months.
We realize that mistakes happen, but this has been a big upgrade in technology for the court.
What are the Benefits of E-Filing?
- It is trackable. Clerks are able to see where a case is in the process. They can see if it was incorrectly rejected and can use that as a training experience. Previously, if the clerk rejected something, it was returned. Now, if you call us, we can look at the document together and try to figure the issue out.
- All documents are viewable by clerks from their desktops. No more searching for files or going into the court to find documents.
- It allows clerks to fix common problems.
- It is used by judges to better prepare for their calendars. They can more easily gather all relevant documents to that hearing.
- It helps with maintaining a clean record for cases on appeal.
- It is more flexible than the old ICMS system The old CMS system had a lot of macro processes that, if entered incorrectly, could not be removed.
- It gives the court advanced data analytics that identifies workers who are most efficient, so we can learn from these workers and increase the efficiency of the whole team.
- It allows access to the attorneys to case files.
How many filing clerks in Civil, Probate, and Family Law does the court employ?
Andrew supervises seven clerks in Unlimited Civil, six in Limited Civil, two in Probate, three in small claims/unlawful detainers and three lead clerks. Antwana supervises 15 clerks in Family Law, seven in Legal Processing, six in Legal Tech and two in Calendar. The court originally thought that E-Filing would reduce the need for clerks, but that is definitely not the case because filings have substantially increased. The court is trying to add more positions as budgets allow.
Innovative Things Contra Costa Superior Court is Doing with E-Filing
- Daily Triage: Every morning, clerks are scanning filings to find cases with deadlines in next two weeks. We first started filing cases on a first come, first served basis. But that didn’t work. This is why adding the “Next Hearing Date” to your filings is so helpful (see below.)
- Consistently assigning filing clerks to Civil and Probate departments so they become familiar with the history of cases and unique characteristics for the judge and that kind of law. (Depending on workload, clerks are able to help out in different departments as they are needed.)
- Allowing certain non-parties to add themselves to a case. Special types of professionals such as Referees, Special Masters, Parenting Coordinators, and Experts may E-File or they may continue filing at the window.
Things to Remember
- E-Filing is open to attorneys 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Clerks are only on the job eight hours during business days. They find themselves always trying to manage workloads.
- CC Superior Court has seen a drastic increase in the number of filings here. This may be due to the fact that Contra Costa Courts are now more accessible – attorneys were previously required to pay a courier to file in-person and appear in-person. E-Filing and remote appearances have reduced the cost of filing itself and also eliminates travel time and attorneys’ hourly fees. We have seen a particularly significant increase in Personal Injury cases and Minor’s Compromise petitions.
- The clerks are working hard to find solutions. They look carefully for critical deadlines (Answers, Defaults, Unlawful Detainer cases in Unlimited Civil) and spend time every day doing the triage. Having attorneys file at the window does not help fix the backlog because if the clerks stop to handle matters at the window, then it takes away time for E-Filing. (They don’t hear compliments often and really appreciate them when you take the time.)
- If a filing has not completed and it is a time-sensitive matter, please call the Clerk’s Office and let us know the envelope number so we can look into it. Given resources available, please use your best discretion in labeling something as an emergency.
- If your document has a statute of limitations or deadline and it was rejected, you have one day to cure the problem. (CCP 1010.6)
The Clerk’s Office can fix a lot of things but, there are some they absolutely cannot fix. The only option is to reject the filing. For example:
- Party has a fee waiver and that payment type is not selected
- Filings submitted into the subordinate case on consolidated actions
- Large exhibits broken up and submitted without cover pages (see tip below re: Motions in Limine)
- Multiple documents uploaded as one PDF
- Amended filings are submitted but not identified as amended
- Subsequent pleadings are submitted as a new filing.
What Happens When a Stipulation or an Order after Hearing is Filed?
Family Law: When it is received via E-Filing, the filing clerk directs it to the Department in an E-Filing queue. Once it is approved by the judicial officer, it is sent back to the Clerk’s Office for filing. You will receive a filing update in your envelope.
Civil and Probate: On a rolling basis, the departments are receiving training on how to receive the documents in the same fashion as noted above in Family Law. For now, the filing clerks are printing the documents submitted for approval and routing them to the relevant department.
If it is a pleading that has a statutory deadline attached, such as a requirement to hold a document for 25 days, then the document is routed by the Clerk’s Office to the Department. After the requisite time has passed, the department clerk presents it to the judicial officer for signature and returns it to the Clerk’s Office.
Please check Odyssey because the clerks try to input notes of the progress so that they can be seen by the public.
Simple Things Attorneys Can Do to Speed Up the Process
- Include the Next Hearing Date in the beginning of the filing description and then finish the title of the document (Example: “Next HRG 2/5/24 Petitioner’s Responsive Declaration” Do not put this in the comments column. Clerks cannot see that from the overview screen.
- The document description should match the document title. This is especially important for preserving your appellate record, because the files sent to the appellate court are identified by the document description NOT the caption on the pleading! Furthermore, if the names are not accurate, the clerks must take time to rename each document.
- Pick the correct security level for each document.
- For large filings such as Motions in Limine which may include a large number of files, use cover pages and include the document title and items enclosed, for example, the title should be something like, “Exhibits A-K in support of motion,” next filing “Exhibits L-M in support of motion.” Add a cover page for each batch of pages for a large file that has been broken up. Without one there is no way to tie the subsequent batches to the original exhibit batch.
- Use the “Comments to Court” box for special notes for the Clerk’s Office. Include things like timeline restrictions. – This is especially helpful for specific timeframes required by statue that the clerks office might not see regularly.
- Send courtesy copies to the judge with a label including the E-Filing envelope number so that the Department knows that an E-Filing is pending.
- To the extent you can, please do not categorize something as Miscellaneous.
Prefer to Learn by Watching a Video?
There are two on the CCCBA’s E-Filing Basics web page. https://www.cccba.org/member-center/ccc-superior-court/efiling-basics/
Need Help with Odyssey? Use the source the Clerk’s Office uses, Odyssey’s Knowledge Base. This is posted on the Civil E-Filing Services page of the court’s website on the right, “E-Filing User Questions.” Or visit https://odysseyfileandservecloud.zendesk.com/hc/en-us
Attorneys can call the Clerk’s Office weekdays from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm at (925) 608-1000.