October 27, 2020
Dear Justice Corner,
I’ve heard from self-represented litigants that the pandemic has made e-filing even more challenging than before because they can no longer e-file at the courthouse and get in-person assistance. I’ve looked at the system and it does seem quite confusing. Is there anything we can do to help?
Dear Judge Confusedbyefiling,
You are right. E-filing is complicated and incredibly confusing for self-represented litigants (SRLs) who have never had any contact with the court system. Since January 1, 2018, when e-filing in civil cases became mandatory, large numbers of SRLs have travelled to courthouses to receive necessary assistance and in-person support to e-file or gain access to public computer terminals.
However, due to the pandemic, many courts have restricted public access to their buildings, reduced on-site staffing levels, and encouraged staff to practice social distancing. Likewise, there may be limitations on use of shared facilities and equipment, including public computer terminals. As you have experienced, courts are finding it difficult to provide the same level of personal assistance and support while following public safety guidelines.
In response, the Illinois Supreme Court amended Rule 9 to address these barriers to accessing justice while COVID-19 has limited physical access to courthouses. As of August 14, 2020, Rule 9(c)(5) is amended to allow self-represented litigants (SRLs) who are unable to complete the e-filing process on their own and unable to get assistance from the court to be exempted from e-filing and to file by mail, in person, or other means as permitted by the local court. The Committee Comments make clear that filing by e-mail is an available means and courts could establish a process that allows exempt SRLs to file documents remotely by email to reduce the number of SRLs traveling to the courthouse.
You should make sure that all court staff and clerks are aware of this Rule change so that SRLs who cannot successfully e-file on their own and cannot get e-filing assistance can still access the court. You can also establish a process that would allow exempt parties to file remotely by e-mail if possible (someone might be able to email even if they can’t make it through the e-filing system) thereby protecting court personnel and litigants while continuing to make court accessible to all. As always, you continue to retain discretion to say that a litigant doesn’t have to e-file in a case, too.
The Access to Justice Division of the AOIC is ready to assist your court in any way it can to ensure litigants maintain access to justice during this time. Reach out to Jill Roberts at email@example.com to discuss any of the topics mentioned here or to obtain copies of resources. As always if you have questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or stories about self-represented litigants, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Justice Corner, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice's Court Guidance and Training Committee
- Chair, Judge Jo Beth Weber, Jefferson County
- Presiding Judge Clarence M. Darrow, Rock Island County
- Presiding Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Cook County
- Associate Judge Elizabeth M. Rochford, Lake County
- Chief Judge Michael Kramer, Kankakee County
- Justice Michael B. Hyman, 1st Appellate District
- David Holtermann, Lawyers' Trust Fund, Chicago
- Wendy Vaughn, Clinical Professor NIU, Member of Access to Justice Commission
- Jill Roberts, Access to Justice Division Staff