August 27 , 2018
Dear Justice Corner:
What is my role as a judge regarding mandatory e-filing?
Dear Judge Efilinghelp:
Although electronic filing (e-filing) is a delivery system between court patrons and the circuit clerk's office, judges are integral to the success of the system. Several rules and orders reference mandatory e-filing or working with self-represented litigants (SRLs).
The Supreme Court defined a good cause exemption to e-filing in SCR 9(c)(4), which is intended to protect the needs of the most vulnerable SRLs by allowing them to file a certification form exempting those who (1) do not have a computer or internet in their home, (2) have a disability that prevents them from e-filing, (3) have difficulty reading or writing in English, or (4) are filing a sensitive case. Additionally, the rule provides for judicial discretion regarding the exemption from e-filing by stating: "Judges retain discretion to determine whether good cause is shown. If the court determines that good cause is not shown, the court shall enter an order to that effect stating specific reasons for the determination and ordering the litigant to e-file thereafter. Judges retain discretion to determine whether, under particular circumstances, good cause exists without the filing of a certificate and the court shall enter an order to that effect."
Circumstances where a judge may grant a good cause exemption include:
- An attorney has a disability that makes it challenging to file electronically.
- An “attorney of the day” in a pro bono program is representing tenants on short notice in court (e-filed documents, including appearances, may take 2-3 days to be processed and accepted by the Clerk’s office).
- SRLs who do not know how to use a computer.
- An emergency motion that must be heard immediately without delay.
Please note that the original Supreme Court Administrative Order establishing mandatory e-filing statewide (M.R.18362 Jan. 22, 2016) also made reference to emergency situations being exempt from e-filing in paragraph 7: "Attorneys and self-represented litigants may not file documents through any alternative filing method, except in the event of emergency. Courts may not accept, file or docket any document filed by an attorney or self-represented litigant in a civil case that is not filed in compliance with this Order, except in the event of an emergency (emphasis added).
Additionally, the Rule also grants judges the discretion to, upon good cause, grant relief where a document is untimely filed under certain circumstances in SCR 9(d). If a document is untimely due to any electronic filing system technical failure or if it is rejected by the clerk, the filing party may seek appropriate relief from the court, upon good cause shown. As everyone adjusts to e-filing, technical and unintended human errors may cause delays and missed deadlines. The system is still undergoing improvements and many users have reported challenges using it during the first few months. Again, judges may use their discretion when appropriate to provide relief where good cause exists, especially during this transition period. Please note, the timing of this general discretion may be limited by more specific jurisdictional deadlines as discussed in dicta by the Second District in Peraino v. County of Winnebago, 2018 IL App (2d) 170368.
Lastly, despite any errors with e-filing, judges always have the power, and obligation, to ensure that SRLs are fairly heard under SCR 63(A)(4). "A Judge shall accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or that person's lawyer, the right to be heard according to the law. A judge may make reasonable efforts, consistent with the law and court rules, to facilitate the ability of self-represented litigants to be fairly heard."
In summary, judges have a lot of discretion when it comes to e-filing in your court. The comment to SCR 9 says it best, "The implementation of electronic filing in Illinois courts should not impede a person’s access to justice." It is you as a judge who will ensure all litigants have access to our courts.
Please email your questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, or stories about self-represented litigants to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justice Corner, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice Court Guidance and Training Committee
- Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan, McHenry County
- Presiding Judge Clarence M. Darrow, Rock Island County
- Presiding Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Cook County
- Judge Jo Beth Weber, Jefferson County
- David Holtermann, Lawyers' Trust Fund, Chicago
- Joseph Dailing, Legal Aid Consultant, Rockford