Illinois’s Court System Failure: No Electronic Access to Files

One of the areas that Illinois is seriously lagging behind on in eFiling of documents and electronic access to court files. I am constantly frustrated when I look at the baby steps that are being taken in Illinois as compared to what has already been completed in other states.

For example, New York has efiling and electronic access to court records. To check out New York’s system, follow the simple instructions provided by Above the Law.

Our backwardness has now reached national attention. In a article published on February 26, Lynne Marek notes that Illinois courts (along with several others) are lagging behind when it comes to electronic access.

Cook County is one of many U.S. counties, including San Diego in California and Kings in New York, that hasn’t kept pace with 21st century technological advances that have enabled electronic systems to come to some state courts, such as Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona and the district courts of Harris County in Texas.

Those highly wired courts — along with the nearly 10-year-old federal electronic system called Pacer — have set a higher standard for electronic access and are drawing other state courts, such as those in Illinois, Florida and California, toward technological benefits.

The article accurately notes the reasons that attorneys are looking for electronic access:

 For lawyers, the key is electronic access to files over the Internet and the ability to file electronically, allowing them to spend less time and money traveling to the courthouse. It also increases predictability in filing a document in court, attorneys said.

Finally, the electronic dockets help ensure that judges aren’t searching for documents missing from case files during hearings, they added.

In short, eFiling and electronic access is all about using technology to practice law more effectively. Unfortunately, there appears to be an institutional bias against this here in Illinois:

Cook and other counties in Illinois are barred by the state’s Supreme Court from making documents available on the Internet mainly because of privacy concerns. Across the country, such concerns relate to everything from identity theft to children viewing parents’ divorce filings. For many states though, including Illinois, Florida and Texas, guidance from officials is still in flux.

eFiling and electronic access would also help eliminate some of the problems that currently exists with respect to the proper filing of documents in court files. As noted in the article:

When Chicago litigator Victor Henderson sends an assistant to the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago to retrieve a filing, he hopes for a bit of luck.

“We send them over and cross our fingers and hope it will come back,” said Henderson, an attorney in Holland & Knight’s Chicago office. “The confidence level is only 80 or 90 percent that, if you ask for something, it’s going to be there. With a lawsuit, it has to be 100 percent.”

Yesterday, I saw first hand an example of this. I witnessed a contested hearing in front a judge in law division, in a case that had recently been transfered from chancery. In the chancery division, the judge had decided part of the case and that portion was on appeal. The judge questioned the attorneys about where in the appellate process that appeal was. The attorneys explained that the record on appeal still had not yet been filed because the clerk’s office could not find all of the documents in the file. Instead, the clerk’s office was putting together the record on appeal using documents from the court file as well as documents from the attorneys’ files.

I am not saying that eFiling will solve all problems. However, it will certainly make the practice of law more efficient. This efficiency should benefit all parties in the legal system, the parties, the attorneys, the judges, and the clerks.

Customer Disservice: Walk The Line

Walk The Line MovieI recently watched Walk the Line, the movie about Johnny Cash and his relationship with June Carter Cash. I really enjoyed the movie and I thought that both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did an excellant job in their roles.

The dissatisfaction that I have comes not from the movie at all. Instead, it comes from the fact that someone (presumably at Fox) decided that what the movie needed was to start with a commercial accusing its customers of being thieves. Furthermore, because this message is so important, it is necessary to make sure that the viewer cannot jump from the commercial to the DVD menu. No, instead, the viewer must watch the entire commercial in which they are accused of being a thief.

It’s bad enough that we have to put up with the stupid FBI message at the beginning of every movie. Does anyone actually believe that this stupid message from the FBI, telling you all of the possible penalties if you violate copyright law, has ever prevented a single instance of a copyright violation?

Who first came up with the idea that the best thing for movie companies to do is to treat all of their customers as if they were criminals? Is this any different from a store posting someone at the front door that accosts any customer who walks in and warns them that they have to pay for the merchandise they are getting?

I am pretty sure that most people have a pretty good idea that it is illegal to copy a DVD and sell it. I am also pretty sure that the little PSA at the beginning of the movie is going to do nothing to stop thieves who are stealing the movies and instead, will act only to irritate and create a less pleasurable viewing experience for the lawful majority of the viewers.

Customer Disservice: AT&T

AT&TI am constantly amazed at how difficult some companies make it for their customers to deal with them. I understand why companies use automated answering systems. In fact, there are many occasions when I am glad that companies use automated answering systems. For example, if I want to know the balance on my account or whether a company received my last payment, I like the convenience of being able to find out that information without having to talk to a real person.

What I cannot stand, however, is when companies use automated answering systems in a stupid manner. Recently we had a telephone line at a house that we owned that we were renovating. We reached the point where we wanted to cancel the telephone service.

When I obtained the service, I was able to do so by signing up over the internet. When I wanted to disconnect, however, I had to call my provider. I had no ability to disconnect the service without speaking to a real person. Fine, that annoys me, but I understand why they do it.

So I pick up the phone and call AT&T, f/k/a SBC, f/k/a Ameritech, f/k/a Illinois Bell. The first thing that the automated system requests is my telephone number. This is not a wholly unreasonable request. After a couple of prompts I am told the current status of my account, when the last payment was made, etc. Based upon this, I know that the system has now pulled up my account records.

I then get transferred to a live person, who can finally disconnect my phone service. Of course, as soon as she picks up the line, she asks me for my phone number. WTF?

I have already given them my phone number. AT&T has already accessed and pulled up my account records, but the live person that I finally reach cannot help me until I again give her my telephone number.

What idiot created this system? It’s bad enough that I have to slog through the automated answering service and talk to a person to disconnect my service anyway, why does AT&T deliberately make the entire customer service process unfriendly and difficult?

It was customer service issues like these that caused me to entirely abandon AT&T (then SBC) in December 2003 when I switched to Comcast for my internet service and Vonage for my telephone service.

Given that the poor customer service in trying to cancel the service was just one of several bad experiences that I had during just the few months I was working with AT&T, this most recent experience convinced me that I had made the absolutely correct decision to leave AT&T behind.