Monday, March 31, 2014

Appellate Practice: Busy Second District Adapts To Electronic Filing

By Dineen Pashoukos Wasylik

Second District Court of Appeal Chief Judge Charles A. Davis Jr. gave a detailed report on the state of the court at the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s annual breakfast with the Second District Court of Appeal in March.  Despite – or maybe in part because of – the advent of electronic filing using the state’s eFiling Portal, Chief Judge Davis reported that the state of the court is, in a word, busy. 

Indeed, since September 23, attorneys have submitted more than 14,000 electronic filings, and that number does not count pro se papers filed in hard copy and scanned by the clerk. 

These numbers are reflective, in part, of the large number of cases initiated before the court. For fiscal year 2012-13, the court had 6,081 cases initiated. In 1994 – the last year the Legislature added a judicial seat to the Second District – there were only 4,625 cases initiated. So the court is dealing with a 31 percent increase in caseload without any additional judges to help shoulder that load.

The court’s heavy caseload stretches the judges to their limits, even when taking into account the relative difficulty of each case. The Florida Supreme Court has a system for weighting the judicial caseload for difficulty, and although the system recommends that an appellate judge have a weighted caseload of no more than 280 cases, for 2012-13 the weighted caseload per Second District judge was 350 cases. Because of this, the Florida Supreme Court this year has certified to the Legislature the need for two additional judgeships for the Second District. If the additional judgeships came through, the court would still be maxed out with a 284-cases-per-judge weighted caseload.  Although the Legislature did not act on several previous requests for additional judgeships for the Second District, the court is hopeful that this year’s request will have political traction.

The increased caseload can’t be attributed to one specific kind of case, either. Over the past five years, the court has seen an 18 percent increase in civil filings, of which many can be attributed to foreclosure litigation; a 14 percent increase in post-conviction proceedings; and an 11 percent increase in family law filings. The diversity of cases means the judges don’t often see the same issue twice, and it contributes to the turnaround time for decisions.

Due to the difficulties of transitioning to an all-electronic system, both the judges and the court staff have had to put in many more hours than usual to handle this caseload. Although the clerk’s office is no longer creating file wallets, for example, the staff instead is working overtime to ensure the systems are in place to route electronic cases appropriately.  In addition, the clerk still sends out opinions and orders on paper and interacts with prisoners and pro se litigants by paper.

Chief Judge Davis reported that the judges are slowly but steadily adapting to reading everything on screens rather than paper. He also credited the court’s collegiality for its success in making the transition work.