Hoping to save money, time and rapidly shrinking storage space, Jefferson County Commissioners stressed the importance for all district courts to start implementing the e-filing system during a July 22 budget hearing.
Currently, only Judge Bob Wortham of the 58th District Court and Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, require trial lawyers to file their lawsuits electronically.
The other two civil court judges in Jefferson County -- Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court, and Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court -- still accept paper filings.
During the hearing, which was part of the annual county budget preparation process, commissioners expressed concerns over running out of storage space in the courthouse, the time it takes clerks to scan and store cases and the higher cost of the paper system.
When asked if he could get "other judges on board" with e-filing, Judge Wortham told commissioners that they "have to get past the learning curve" and that "we're all going to be e-file sooner or later."
In other budget items concerning his court, Judge Wortham asked to keep his travel budget so some of his clerks could attend an upcoming seminar.
No other district civil judges attending the budget hearing.
In a July 26 interview, District Clerk Lolita Ramos told the Southeast Texas Record the county digests around 12,000 new cases every year – a whopping number sucking up precious storage space.
As the department responsible for maintaining and managing the case files, Ramos said eventually Jefferson County will be forced to hire an outside vender to scan every piece of litigation in the county's history so files can be transferred to an electronic database.
She also said that even though her office has "lot's of needs," she did not make any request for new funding because of the current financial pinch, and that for now her clerks were more than capable of handling the current case load.
The District Clerk's Office budget for 2009 – 2010 was $1,725,489. Ramos did not request any additional funding for 2010 – 2011 budget cycle.
All four of the county's civil courts proposed smaller budgets for 2010 – 2011.
Judge Wortham's proposed budget comes in at $275,137. His budget last year was $275,999.
Judge Sanderson submitted a proposed budget of $262,357 -- $862 less than his 2009 – 2010 budget.
Judge Shuffield requested a proposed 2010 – 2011 budget of $270,429, down $148 from last year's $270,577 budget.
Judge Floyd made the deepest cut, requesting $17,184 less this cycle. His budget for 2009 – 2010 totaled $277,622. The judge submitted a $260,438 budget for 2010 – 2011.