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Anne Arundel courts soon to plug in to e-filing

A Maryland Judiciary project to enable attorneys and litigants to file claims electronically in trial courts will begin Oct. 14 in Anne Arundel County, pending a vote by the state’s top court Thursday in Annapolis.

The Court of Appeals has scheduled an open hearing and vote on the proposed date for the Anne Arundel County circuit and district courts to begin accepting filings electronically, rather than by paper submission. The high court is also expected to vote Thursday on a rule calling on court clerks to send electronically the summonses plaintiffs must provide to the named defendants notifying them of the litigation.

However, summonses must be printed out by plaintiffs’ attorneys and served to defendants unless the defense lawyers consent to electronic delivery.

The Anne Arundel County courts are serving as the pilot site for the Maryland Electronic Courts project, popularly called MDEC. The Judiciary plans to have MDEC running statewide within the next few years.

“We’re entering into the modern age of technology,” Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Clerk Robert P. Duckworth said Tuesday.

“We’re going live [on Oct. 14], and that’s the test,” he added. “There will be bumps in the road. We’ll get around them. We will refine this system where we find problems with it.”

Duckworth said his office is excited about the prospect of paperless filing.

“The whole case-management process is going to be electronic,” he said. “To get to that day, we’re going to work hard to make sure paper cases are disposed of as we move into the electronic world.”

On its MDEC website, the Judiciary states that “e-filing for attorneys will become mandatory county by county” as conversion to the system proceeds.

“The MDEC project is creating a single Judiciary-wide integrated case management system that will be used by all the courts in the state court system,” the Judiciary says. “Courts will collect, store and process records electronically and will be able to instantly access complete records as cases travel from district court to circuit court and on to the appellate courts.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney John Cord, a Timonium solo practitioner, hailed MDEC’s arrival as “a fantastic idea” that will save lawyers the time and expense of personally filing paper documents in court.

“Lawyers are perhaps the biggest procrastinators in the world,” Cord said, recalling frantic dashes to the courthouse to meet filing deadlines at the clerk’s office. “When you file [electronically], it’s instantly there.”

Maryland District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey said the MDEC system “brings us into the 21st century.”

Once e-filing goes statewide, it “will bring uniformity among everybody and communication will increase,” he said Tuesday. “We needed to act.”

Morrissey noted another benefit of e-filing.

“It will lead to savings on paper,” he said. “Eventually, there will be no more paper files. It will all be electronic.”