Marion County, W.Va., Makes State History With First E-Filed Lawsuit

Marion County and Jefferson County are two of the 14 pilot counties to test the new system.

by Andrea Lannom, McClatchy News Service / December 11, 2013

The circuit court in Marion County made West Virginia history with the first lawsuit filed by an attorney who didn't even step inside the building.

However, it still could be a while before the whole state sees electronic filings like this.

Fairmont attorney J. Scott Tharp, of Tharp, Liotta & Yokum, filed the first lawsuit Tuesday, marking the first of several lawsuits to be filed as part of the state Supreme Court's uniform filing system.

And the filing went well with no bugs reported, said Chief Justice Brent Benjamin.

"Today's filing went flawless," Benjamin said in a phone interview after the filing. "And it was a filing that involved multiple plaintiffs and multiple defendants. The attorney filed this from his office and did everything electronically. It instantly appeared in the clerk's office and they were able to accept it as filed. It was pretty exciting to see."

Matt Arrowood, who heads up the project, explained Tharp was able to file the suit and pay the fee electronically.

"We are going to do more training in Marion County and hopefully in January, we will do more in Jefferson County," he said.

"Basically, we have to show attorneys because it's a process," Arrowood explained about the training. "We like to walk them through it and let them figure it out for themselves."

According to a news release from the state Supreme Court, this training will prepare for the opening of e-filing to the general public next year.

Marion County and Jefferson County, which is next on the list, are two of the 14 pilot counties to test out this system.

Besides the first two counties, Berkeley, Braxton, Cabell, Hampshire, Harrison, Lewis, Lincoln, Morgan, Ohio, Randolph, Upshur and Wood were picked because they already were using a Morgantown-based software program that will help the Supreme Court bring all counties in the state into the new technology, according to past reports.

"The pilot is supposed to last through 2015," Arrowood said. "It just depends on how everything goes. Some issues we have to deal with are ... rural counties where there is no internet access, even in law firms. Also, clerks' offices need new scanners, new computers. That's obstacles we have to face in smaller counties."

The state Supreme Court will pay for implementation, supplies and training, Arrowood explained.

Another benefit, Benjamin explained, is that e-filing will save time, effort and money. It also may help alleviate space issues in circuit clerks' offices, he said.

"Rooms now occupied by many files and papers and so on, boxes of paper and cases, will now be able to be used for other purposes," he said.

It will still be a while before attorneys in Kanawha County will be able to file lawsuits electronically. Benjamin said he anticipates the county to be among the last to be brought online.

"It doesn't have the computer system in place that makes the transition on a quick basis nor does it have the documents in an electronic form," Benjamin said. "And also because it's the largest county, we need to make certain that we've got all the glitches out when we bring it online."

Benjamin explained the types and the amount of cases in state courts are much different than the federal court's e-filing system, PACER.

"There are many, many, many more cases at the state level," Benjamin said. "And there are more geographic areas at the state level. That's part of the challenges of putting it together. In that respect, it's more complex but from a usability standpoint, what we've found from other jurisdictions using this system ... everyone seems to be very happy with it."

Benjamin said the public will be able to access information through this system but there will be limited access for people who are not parties in the lawsuit.

One of the reasons the court established this program is because of the mistaken release of an inmate.

According to previous reports, the state Supreme Court found a confusing case numbering system was partly to blame for Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster's mistaken dismissal of a case against Jeremy Carter, an accused kidnapper. He was re-arrested on the same charge about a week later.

The court also wanted to make a uniform system for the state's circuit courts.

"I think it was truly a historic day," Arrowood said of the first electronically filed lawsuit. "I think it puts West Virginia to the forefront in the national spectrum. It gives us something to look forward to."

(c) 2013 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)