North Carolina’s Superior and District courts are undergoing an operational sea change: electronic filing. For those of us who practice before federal courts and state appellate courts, electronic filing will be nothing new. Federal courts have used PACER since 1988 and North Carolina’s appellate courts have used electronic filing since 1998. But for many of our colleagues, the Administrative Office of the Courts’ new journey into electronic filing will be a great departure from our standard practice at the state level and we, as practitioners, have a great deal to learn. To borrow from Homer, even an attorney learns something once it hits him. But this is not something which we must be hit about the head with to accept. It is something we should embrace, as it will strengthen our practice and benefit all involved.
In March 2017, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice recommended a sweeping modernization of the technology used by our Superior and District courts. At the time, these courts used over fourteen different and independent technologies for their operations, with many operating on MS-DOS – an operating system dating back to the 1980’s. In 2019, the Administrative Office of the Courts began work to overhaul these systems used at the county court level. Some of these changes are already in the works: the Brazos system has replaced eCitation for issuing and accepting payment for traffic citations and eWarrants is in the process of replacing NCAWARE for issuing warrants. But these are merely the first steps on the greater expedition.
The system being implemented is called Odyssey. It has been specifically designed to provide access and support to all parties to a legal matter: attorneys, pro se litigants, judges, clerks of court, law enforcement officers, and members of the public. Odyssey will enter a pilot program with Harnett, Johnston, Lee, and Wake counties in early 2022. The program will then move to Mecklenburg County approximately sixty to ninety days after the pilot program’s completion. From there, it is expected that additional “tracks” of counties will roll out Odyssey approximately every sixty to ninety days thereafter. The current timeline has a goal of statewide coverage by no later than the middle of 2024.
On April 21, 2021, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued an order amending the current General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts. Specifically, Rule 5 has been amended to require electronic filing through Odyssey once your county’s courts have adopted it in its given track. As attorneys, we are expected to “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with the technology relevant to” our practice. Technology has become an ever-present part of our profession for decades – from fax machines to smart phones and now electronic filing. Of course, changes to the legal profession and its technologies offer a number of reasons to be concerned, and we are expected to be observant of those concerns.
Trepidation, therefore, is understandable. But this change should be greeted warmly, as it offers a myriad of ways in which our practice will be invigorated. No longer will we have to stress over missing the courier deadline for a final court filing because we can do it ourselves from our desks. No longer will we have to take time out of our busy days to physically travel to a courthouse to simply review a file because we can bring it up on our computers at any time of the day. No longer will we have to worry about whether a filing will be before the judge because we will have a record that it was filed, and the judge will be able to bring all filings up from the bench. No longer will we have to contact a clerk to confirm a filing was received because we will receive confirmation in our inboxes and can view the filings online. No longer will we need to print and mail service on all parties (where possible) because the system perfects service at the click of a button. No longer will we need to write checks or carry cash to make payments because the system will streamline payment processing automatically.
Odyssey will free us up to pursue our own odysseys. Rather than traveling to the courthouse, you might find additional time for another client. Rather than scouring a courthouse’s files, you might find additional time to spend on a hobby. Rather than placing a call to the clerk of court to confirm filing of a document, you might be able to simply take a small break. By no means will this be a seamless transition. But remember, “[a] man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys his sufferings after a time.” For “[e]ach man delights in the work that suits him best.” So, in the great tradition of Homer, please join me on this odyssey into a more accessible and open court system, so that we, as attorneys, may better enjoy that which we have worked so hard to accomplish.
The preceding article was researched, written and reviewed as part of the work of the NCBA Professional Vitality Committee (“PVC”). The lead author was Matthew A. Freeze of Ann Marie Daniel Attorney at Law, PLLC, Charlotte, NC. Please direct comments and suggestions to Jamie Dean, Committee Chair, and Lauren Colvard, Communities Manager.
https://ncbarblogprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Blog-Header-1-1030x530.png00Professional Vitality Committeehttps://ncbarblogprod.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Blog-Header-1-1030x530.pngProfessional Vitality Committee2021-11-22 14:48:312021-11-22 15:00:54Join Me on an Odyssey to E-Filing, Won’t You?