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Editorial Advisory Board: MDEC inches closer to the finish line

On Oct. 25, Montgomery County became the 22nd Maryland jurisdiction to implement Maryland Electronic Courts filing in its Circuit and District Courts. MDEC filing began in Anne Arundel County in 2014 and by 2019 all Maryland jurisdictions other than Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore city had MDEC filing.

It is our understanding that Prince George’s County is slated to implement MDEC filing in October 2022.  We are not aware of a target date for implementation in Baltimore.

Electronic filing provides more efficient access to the courts and eliminates the myriad of problems with paper filings. Implementation of electronic filing in a large jurisdiction such as Baltimore will not be easy.  But, given the current budget surpluses at the state and local level, the resources to make MDEC happen in Baltimore are there. This should be a priority.

MDEC is not perfect.  For example, only counsel of record can view documents within an MDEC case file and there is a lack of uniformity among jurisdictions with respect to the courts’ use of MDEC to notify counsel of notices and orders.

We understand that there may be concerns about data harvesting and other privacy issues with respect to unlimited electronic access to case filings. But, the federal courts’ PACER system and many state court electronic filing systems allow public access to filings. We encourage the judiciary to find ways to allow greater electronic access to case filings while addressing data harvesting and privacy concerns.

There are many times when lawyers who are not counsel of record need to review case files. Back in the day when lawyers typically practiced in one jurisdiction and their offices  were in county seats and within walking distance of the courthouse, having to look up files in person was not burden. That is not how lawyers practice today.

Many lawyers practice in multiple jurisdictions and their offices often are not near any courthouse.  Allowing all registered MDEC users electronic access to case files would be efficient and also reduce a burden on court personnel who have to locate and copy physical files.

The courts could implement safeguards to prevent wholesale data harvesting, such as requiring an MDEC user to certify before accessing a case file that he or she is accessing the file for purposes related to legal research or client representation and limit the number of case files accessed in a time period so that a user cannot access scores of files.

Insofar as privacy is concerned, genuine privacy issues should be dealt with by sealing pursuant to a judicial order that would apply to both in-person and electronic access. If a document can be accessed in person in the clerk’s office, there is nothing that prevents a member of the public from obtaining a physical copy of the document and then posting it online.

Most Maryland courts send notices and orders via MDEC e-service to counsel as a matter of course.  However, there are jurisdictions such as Baltimore County where this is not the case. Although notices and orders are uploaded to the MDEC system not all are sent to the attorneys of record though e-service.   Baltimore County recently announced that notices and orders “generated by the Assignment Office” will soon be sent to counsel via MDEC e-service  but this does not apply to all court orders. Attorneys must periodically search online to see if an order  has been signed.

Yes, orders are sent by mail  but given current mail delays, it is not uncommon for mail from the courts to take several days to arrive at the offices of counsel. Notices and orders are time-sensitive, and we encourage every jurisdiction  to  use MDEC e-service to send ALL notices and orders to counsel.

We congratulate Montgomery County on its implementation of MDEC and look forward to its implementation in Prince George’s County. Whatever hurdles there are to implementation in Baltimore, they can and must be overcome.

Insofar as MDEC generally is concerned, we encourage the judiciary to consider ways to improve access and use by the courts. With Montgomery County coming online and Prince George’s County following within a year, we have much to celebrate. But, there is still work to be done both in Baltimore and systemwide before we will be popping champagne corks here at the Editorial Advisory Board.

Editorial Advisory Board member Arthur F. Fergenson did not participate in this opinion.        

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

James B. Astrachan, Chair

James K. Archibald

Gary E. Bair

Andre M. Davis

Arthur F. Fergenson

Nancy Forster

Susan Francis

Leigh Goodmark

Roland Harris

Michael Hayes

Julie C. Janofsky

Ericka N. King

Angela W. Russell

Debra G. Schubert

L. Mark Stichel

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.