Since its creation by the Texas Legislature in 1997 I have had the honor and privilege to serve as Chair of the Texas Supreme Court Judicial Committee on Information Technology (JCIT) whose primary focus is to help automate the Texas Court System and put the Internet on the desktop of all 3,200 Judges. Of course when JCIT started in 1997 it was impossible to predict the explosion of growth in the Internet, but nonetheless JCIT has dealt with the changes to IT and information as a result.
Texas Court System
Texas is a large State in geography, population, and local government, as we have 254 counties, more than 1,100 cities, and about 23 million people. Each of the 254 Counties are run by Commissioners’ Courts who also are responsible many other government functions, and there are over 400 District and County Clerks who receive documents filed in the various District and County Courts. Each City finances its own Municipal Court system. Generally local governments are responsible for financing the Court System except the 16 Appellate Courts which are funded by State funds, which include 14 intermediate Courts of Appeal, a civil Supreme Court called the Supreme Court of Texas, and a criminal Supreme Court call the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. All Judges are elected except the +1,000 Municipal Judges who are appointed by the Cities.
Many of the trial courts around Texas are now automating the trial courtrooms so that trial lawyers and judges can use cutting edge technology to display evidence, PowerPoint, video, and websites to juries. AMX is one such company who has implemented courtrooms in a number of Texas Counties including Dallas and Collin. These electronic tools have helped transform the trial process to keep in step with the explosive growth to the Internet and IT. AMX technology is also used by the Supreme Court to broadcast oral argument through St. Mary’s University School of Law.
eFiling in Texas Court
One statutory charge of JCIT was to implement an eFiling system for case documents. JCIT structured the eFiling project with TexasOnline since the Texas Legislature mandated that all State government agencies use the Texas eGovernment portal. TexasOnline has contracts with more than 36 Counties to provide eFiling directly to the District and County Clerks in a standard pdf format. We refer to TexasOnline as the ESM (Electronic Filing Manager) and at the same time TexasOnline has contracts with about 6 EFSPs (Electronic Filing Service Providers) who in turn have contracts with various law firms around the State. The lawyers file with the EFSP of their choice, and the time of the filing is when the lawyer files with the EFSP, who then transmits to the EFM, who in turns files the documents with the specific District or County Clerk. The TexasOnline service also provide for service of documents to other parties, and Judges may issues orders to lawyers in various cases.