There are currently vendors offering a variety of e-filing services, from filing affidavits to filing the initial action. Here’s what every law firm, attorney and paralegal needs to know when using these types of services.
E-Court logins in New Jersey will only be made available to attorneys in good standing. No vendor, paralegal or other type of individual will be given logins and the Courts have no plan to do so.
This means to file any pleading related to a case, the attorney’s specific login must be used.
The Court’s view
The Court has made clear it is purposely not taking a stance on the issue. At a recent meeting attended by DGR, Elisabeth Ann Strom, Esq. of the New Jersey Judiciary stated the Court is not taking a position but stressed the attorney whose credentials are used to login will be liable for whatever document is filed.
There are many issues which could arise when individuals outside of the law firm use an attorney’s login.
The first potential issue comes down to human error. The process to upload documents to the E-Courts website is completely manual, which inherently creates the opportunity for incorrect documents to be uploaded and/or filed. This means an incorrect pleading could be filed for that case or even a document which has nothing to do with that case or that client. If an incorrect document is filed the attorney must file a motion and pay a $50 fee to have it removed. The Court considers the document to be part of the record for that case, so to remove it there must be a trail indicating the document existed in the first place.
Regardless of who files the pleading – attorney, paralegal or vendor – the Court will hold the individual attorney whose credentials were used liable.
The second issue is the possibility of personal identifying information residing in part of the case documents. Any document uploaded to the system is public, with the exception of the criminal division where documents can be assigned a confidentiality level. The importance of removing information such as social security numbers and addresses prior to uploading becomes higher than ever, as there is no third party review prior to the documents becoming available to the public. The repercussions for leaving such information in a document could expose an attorney up to potential HIPPA or Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act violations.
When a vendor logs in to the E-Court to file a pleading on behalf of the attorney, the vendor not only has access to the Law and Chancery Divisions but also to the Criminal Division. Any pleadings filed for the attorney’s client in all Court Divisions become accessible to the vendor, whether they are sealed, privileged or not. The vendor has full access to the case just as the attorney would as well as any other cases in all the Court Divisions in which the attorney has represented that client.
What law firms need to know
When choosing whether to have a vendor e-file on behalf of the law firm, be aware of the possible repercussions. The attorney is liable for missed deadlines, misfiled documents, the release of privileged information, etc. The Courts lack of an official opinion means at any point the Court’s decision could change leaving those attorneys who allow vendors to use their logins at risk to what could be interpreted as negligent behavior by the attorney resulting in sanctions or other forms of discipline. Risks also include the possibility of missing deadlines, misfiling documents and HIPPA/GLBA violations.
Before choosing to allow a vendor to e-file, the firm should carefully weigh the decision.