I am honored to serve as the Presiding Justice of the First Department during the nascence of paperless state appellate practice. In 1999, when the New York legislature created the first pilot program to test electronic filing of documents in a small number of civil trial parts, most attorneys saved documents on disks, rather than "flash drives." At that time, we used our cell phones for the sole purpose of making phone calls. By mid-decade, many were looking for the "on" button on a new invention called the iPod. Imagine, TiVo and Facebook were non-existentand "Wiiiiii!"…well that was something that children exclaimed as they went sledding, or down a slide. By contrast, this year, my four- and six-year-old grandchildren asked Santa for more "apps" for their iPad and for expanded access to WiFi.
The worldwide technological revolution has seen e-filing gain widespread acceptance in New York state courts, culminating in the enactment of a 2009 law that has made three important changes.
First, the e-filing implemented in 1999 is no longer considered an experimental program, and it does not require renewed legislative authority every two to three years.
Second, legislative approval is no longer required to expand the program, and the court system is authorized to promulgate rules permitting voluntary e-filing in additional counties, and in more classes of cases.
Finally, the 2009 legislation authorizes mandatory e-filing in certain jurisdictions and in certain types of cases. It is my hope that during my tenure as presiding justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, we will serve as the first appellate court to adopt the New York State Court's Electronic Filing System (NYSCEF) as a standard method of filing and serving documents here at 27 Madison Ave.
In 1999, the first year when New York state e-filing was authorized, no cases were filed electronically.1 As of last year, after the state legislature gradually expanded authorization for the use of e-filing, more than 300,000 cases have been filed electronically, and there were more than 23,000 users of the NYSCEF system. According to the State Bar Association, practitioners have found e-filing both dependable and efficient. Some of the benefits highlighted by NYSBA2 are as follows:
Simplifying Filing Deadlines: With e-filing, attorneys no longer have to race to a clerk's office before five o'clock on the date a document is due; instead, they can file the submission from their office computer, from home, or from any remote location with Internet access.
Automatic Service: If filing effects service, attorneys will have no basis for a dispute over whether they received a copy of a given document.
Universal Online Access: Digital storage of electronic documents would provide litigants, the courts, and the public the benefit of access to court papers anytime, from any computer, increasing transparency in our judicial system.
Extensive Cost Savings: With the elimination of the costs of purchasing paper, printing and copying, storing and disposing of documents, service by mail, overnight delivery and messenger costs, the estimated savings for each e-filed document ranges from $40 to $95. Moreover, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman estimates that if e-filing is implemented throughout the state, it is estimated that we can save "hundreds of millions of dollars each year."3
Environmental Concerns: E-filing would not only reduce the amount of paper we use, it would also eliminate the need to transport that paper to the court and to litigants around the globe.
Increased Security: Our former chief administrative judge has described, in detail, NYSCEF's comprehensive technological infrastructure, which presently provides security for all e-filed documents "that is far greater than that which exists for documents in paper form."4 Documents uploaded to NYSCEF are encrypted, backed up and preserved on multiple computer servers in separate locations in the state, ensuring preservation of all documents in the event of a natural disaster or a computer malfunction. Additionally, NYSCEF features protections against hackers and viruses, including advanced encryption, real time system monitoring, and on-site server maintenance.5
Presently, our court requires any party perfecting or answering an appeal to file one text-searchable portable document format (PDF) copy of the document via email (see 22 NYCRR §600.11). Conversion to NYSCEF is our goal, but we are still in the early planning stages. I look forward to implementing the communications technology NYSCEF offers, which will certainly improve the quality and efficiency of practice in our court.
Luis A. Gonzalez is Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department.
1. A prototype for federal e-filing was introduced in 1995. The program was implemented in U.S. District Courts beginning in 2002, and federal appellate courts beginning in 2005 (www.uscourts.gov).
2. New York State Bar Association: Report on the Progress Toward Implementing Statewide Electronic Filing in New York Courts (approved by Association's Executive Committee on March 30, 2012) at 3-6.
3. Report of the Chief Administrative Judge, E-Filing in the New York State Courts 3 (June 2011).
4. Id. at 7-8.
5. Id. at 8.