The Appellate Practice Section of the State Bar of Georgia convened as part of the Georgia Bar’s mid-year meeting. In spite of the fact that many participants came over from the swearing-in of Judge Boggs to the Court of Appeals, the luncheon was lively and well-attended. Originally intended to be a candidates’s forum for candidates to an open spot on the Supreme Court of Georgia, events changed the format. However several judges on the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have seats up for re-election this year. And the meeting became an opportunity for brief comments from judges and justices. Without covering each mini-speech, I’ll highlight a few judicial comments about the nature of judicial elections and about what life is like for the judiciary under the leadership of a new governor.

It should come as no great surprise that the former governor did not have a particularly bright spot in his heart for the judiciary or even for lawyers. From the comments I heard, things appear to be better now.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein noted that the new administration is “kindler and gentler,” in terms of budgetary support and basic understanding of what judges and lawyers do. Governor Deal is requesting $10 million for “accountability courts.” Accountability courts are focused on particular needs of a category of defendant. Accountability courts include drug courts, DUI Courts, mental health courts, and veterans courts. The Chief Justice noted that the governor’s son runs an accountability court and that the governor himself was once a juvenile court judge. She and former chief judge Yvette Miller, spoke of how difficult it was for the two appellate courts to make ends meet in the darkest days of the Perdue administration. Both were complimentary of the new governor, and the dark clouds of former days appear to have moved away.

Equally interesting was the general tone about the nature of judicial elections in Georgia. Chief Justice Hunstein, who faced down a well-funded challenge by Mike Wiggins in 2006 (PDF), noted optimistically that a judge’s job at election time is simply to “get the message out, and you can trust Georgia voters.” She looked back on her 2006 election as a time of fear that had she lost then every judge would be intimidated by special interest groups. And she hoped that the 2006 election proved that special interests can’t defeat a sitting judge. For candidates this year, she advised lawyers to inform the choices of non-lawyers. After all, if the judiciary is doing its job, judges should not be in the headlines. Hence, it should not be unusual for the general public to be unfamiliar with the judges.

To date, no challengers have announced an intent to run against any of the Court of Appeals judges or Supreme Court Justices who are up for election. The year ahead looks to be a time of stability for the appellate courts with apparently no contested elections and with a supportive governor in office.

Yesterday, I noticed that there is a proposed rule from the State Bar of Georgia to provide for electronic filing in Georgia courts. Of course, it’s just a proposed rule (PDF). And what comes of it may be simply a model rule for trial courts to follow if they choose to allow electronic filing. But it also might be light at the end of the tunnel for lawyers like me who are way sick of paper. In fact, the way trial courts work right now in the handling of documents is enough to make me want to poke my eyeballs out with a spoon. It’s not exactly fun to figure out a way to get a physical document to some distant land by 5:00 tomorrow to meet a deadline on a motion for new trial or habeas matter, and e filing would fix it. It’s also not fun to file a document in the courthouse basement and wonder how or when the judge on the case might learn of it.

In the late 1980s, when I was in high school, I worked for a law firm as their courier. My job was to go to various courthouses and file documents with various clerks, get the file stamp, and take physical copies to opposing counsel. The process seemed almost quaint then.

This year, I am approaching my 20-year high school reunion. And we’re still handling documents the exact same way in trial courts. Assembling the record for appeal, with a few exceptions, is still exactly the same process that it was the year the Titanic sank. I’m not sure what the issue is. Part of it is that lawyers can be un-innovative. For instance, what other profession is still using fax machines?

A uniform rule for e filing is, I hope, a step toward mandatory e filing in the future. Perhaps, then, I can retire the postage meter, and getting a leave of absence for a trip to Disney World or the filing of a conflict letter won’t burn a whole day every week for an assistant. It’ll have to be mandatory though. There are over 150 counties and Georgia and a blue million lawyers. Most will have to be sent kicking and screaming into the e filing era.

At the State Bar’s annual meeting, Chief Justice Hunstein announced that the Supreme Court of Georgia will require e filing there by the end of the summer and will soon move to the second phase of their e filing initiative to provide for the transmission of electronic records from trial courts.

My operation is paperless. I take notes on my iPad, my phone, or my laptop, and I maintain electronic files with a system for dealing with text notes and pdfs. It works great except for a few sets of occasions in my practice. One is when I visit an inmate in the prison system at a facility that won’t let my iPad or laptop in. You’ll see me often in distant lands buying convenience store paper and pen. The second is when I am in court and need to use paper with a witness or to fill out paperwork (you’ll see me borrowing pens a lot). The third is when I have any case in Butts County, Monroe County, or Lamar County where they equate electronic devices on par with weapons and refuse to allow anything but paper files in. The other is when I am working with co-counsel or opposing counsel that fetishizes paper (which is most of the bar, unfortunately).

The proposed rule will hopefully move us toward a system of file management throughout Georgia that is, if not in the 21st century, will at least be circa 1999.

Two days at the annual meeting of the State Bar of Georgia in Myrtle Beach have given me enough material for a week of blogging. For today, the big news is that the Supreme Court will mandate e-filing for all attorneys before the end of the summer and will create a system for submission of appellate records in electronic form. E-filing was also the talk of the Appellate Practice Section luncheon, with Judge Keith Blackwell discussing the need for a a uniform system for indexing the record on appeal.

Kathleen Joyner, with the Fulton Daily Report, shared a story of some matters I e-filed with the Supreme Court of Georgia on my way out here (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving)

Christmas Picture.jpgWhile it feels like August in Georgia, for appellate practitioners it may feel a little like it is Christmas. Today, the Supreme Court of Georgia has begun accepting briefs through its new e-filing system.

From today forward, lawyers who are in good standing and members of the State Bar of Georgia and the the Supreme Court of Georgia may file a brief and other pleadings before the court by uploading them to the Supreme Court e-filing website as a PDF. While the Georgia Court of Appeals has allowed e-filing for several months now, the Supreme Court will allow a wider range of filings than the Court of Appeals currently supports.

Beyond the Supreme Court’s website, several news have filed stores on e-filing. Bill Rankin, with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution used twitter to announce it. Jan Skutch with the Savannah Morning News ran a story about it. WLTZ News has covered it. My friends over at the SCOG Blog have a good post where they have registered and tried it out. Of Course, the Supreme Court’s own website has extensive coverage.

Among the types of filings that may be submitted the filing system our briefs on cases that are currently pending before the court, applications for interlocutory appeal, applications for discretionary appeal, and petitions for certiorari.

For those unfamiliar with E-filing, the Court has included several instructional videos to tell you how to do things such as register for the following with the Supreme Court, how to submit your first brief, and how to submit various petitions for matters that are not currently docketed before the court. If you have filed electronically in the Georgia Court of Appeals, you will find that the user interface here looks familiar.

I have already registered with the system and find that many of my filings are available to be reviewed. I wrote an article in the most recent issue of the appellate law section’s newsletter, the Appellate Review that discusses the filing in the Georgia Court of Appeals, and I am sure that the section will have a forthcoming article on the Supreme Court’s new move.

Chief Justice Hunstein is very excited about the development. She said today “What we’re talking about here is a revolutionary change that is a win-win situation for the Court and for the litigants,”. She added, “The parties will save time and money by no longer having to print, copy and deliver paper documents. No more fighting Atlanta traffic to get those documents into our Clerk’s office by the 4:30 filing deadline.”

Today’s announcement from the court will make several people happy, including lawyers, legal secretaries, court personnel, and many others who deal with the Supreme Court on a regular basis. No doubt, this system will make several people unhappy including Blumberg, copier suppliers, the United States Postal Service – particularly my old friends whom I used to see at the Hapeville post office at midnight (the last post office in the state you can file things up to midnight). The fact that those people will be unhappy actually makes the even happier.

In the long run, this new system will save me money as every time have ever had to file a brief with the Supreme Court of Georgia, it has been necessary to prepare an original and seven copies to mail out.