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E-filing systems take shape across W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Attorneys in West Virginia will soon be able to file a lawsuit from any computer, as a new electronic filing system takes shape.

Designed to minimize errors, reduce waste and clear up space in circuit clerk's offices, the daunting task of scanning hundreds of thousands of documents will be worth it, according to former Marion County Circuit Clerk Barb Core.

On Tuesday, a lawsuit filed by J. Scott Tharp, a Fairmont attorney, in Marion County will mark the first time a case has been filed electronically in West Virginia, according to Matt Arrowood, director of the Supreme Court's Division of Circuit Clerk Services.

Earlier this year, the West Virginia Supreme Court announced a plan to make all filings systems electronic and the same. As a first step toward a statewide system for circuit clerks, 14 counties are participating in a pilot program using Software Systems, a Morgantown company.

Tuesday "will be the first time an attorney, from his office, will log onto a system, file his case and pay his filing fee by a credit card without ever stepping foot in a circuit clerk's office," Arrowood said Friday.

E-filing already is used in state mass-litigation cases. During the pilot period, attorneys will not be charged a fee for e-filing, like they are to file electronically for mass litigation.

"It's obviously a step forward," said Tharp, who has practiced law for 55 years. "I believe they figure if anybody as old and dumb as I am can handle it, it should be an inspiration for everybody."

The test run Tuesday will allow officials to get a feel for what works and what needs improvement. The complexity of the case Tharp plans to file will be a good indicator as it has numerous plaintiffs, he said.

"We'll see what the problems are then open it up to a few more attorneys in Marion County, deal with some issues and then open it up to all Marion County attorneys," Arrowood said.

Jefferson County is also expected to go live with its e-filing system early next year, according to Arrowood.

The Supreme Court is paying for the program and software updates, licensing fees and hardware, which will cost between $500,000 and $700,000 through September 2014, according to previous reports. 

Barb Core, who in August retired as Marion County's circuit clerk after 26 years in office, is serving as the liaison between the judicial system and one of the companies installing the program.

"In the Marion County Circuit Clerk's office, since 1998, we have filed over 3 million pieces of paper," Core said. "Once you get all these documents scanned and imaged then we're going to have the ability to get rid of all the old paper.

"It's going to free up space in courthouses all over the state," she said. "We have another whole building across the street from the courthouse with one whole top floor just filled with old files that we're scanning. We are always concerned: are those floors stable enough not to come crashing down into the prosecuting attorney's office? That's a problem statewide."

Getting every county on the same page isn't easy, however, Core said. 

"Of the 55 counties in the state, very few of the clerk's offices did things the same way. It just took a lot of time on a daily basis compiling stuff and envisioning how it's going to work," she said.

Some counties were already behind, working with very old or not enough technology, Arrowood said.

"One major challenge we're facing now ... is some circuit clerk's offices are very well equipped while others aren't. In some we've had to get them all new computers and scanners, so that's been the biggest hurdle so far," he said.

But it's going to be worth it, they agreed.

"I tell everyone, look, you're going to love it," Core said. "We are used to getting phone calls all the time asking how late we're open and attorneys would drive all over the state to file that lawsuit or any kind of pleading." Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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