Wake County Court Filings go Digital!
The state of North Carolina plans to invest over $100 million over the next ten years to convert its current court filing systems from paper filings to efilings. Wake County is one of four counties in the state to be part of a pilot program for this new eCourts system. The others are Harnett, Johnston, and Lee Counties. This “eCourts” portal is to be available in all 100 counties across the state by 2025.
What is eCourts?
Essentially, the eCourts portal is the Courthouse Clerk’s Office online. Beginning February 13, 2023, all attorneys practicing in the pilot counties are required to register and file all court documents via the secure eCourts portal. Attorneys can also serve those court documents on opposing counsel via this portal and submit proposed Orders for the judge to enter in a pending case.
In addition to filing court documents, the eCourts portal provides the general public with access to court cases, both civil and criminal cases, including the history and disposition of the particular case. For court documents filed after February 13, 2023, unless it is a juvenile, domestic violence, or other “confidential” case, the general public can access a PDF copy of the filed court document with a simple “click.” Parties can also locate court and hearings dates in their cases, search judgments, and pay court costs. This information is only accessible in the pilot counties currently but will soon be available statewide.
eCourts create efficiencies and promote greater access to the court system.
The eCourts portal is a game changer in a lot of ways. Gone are the days where attorneys have to make multiple copies of documents and then employ staff or a courthouse courier to travel to the courthouse to stand in line to file the documents with the Clerk. Then, have the courier travel back to the office with the stamp-filed documents to give to the attorney, who would then draft a letter to opposing counsel to accompany the hard copy stamp-filed documents and then physically mail the documents to opposing counsel.
Prior to February 13, 2023, if an attorney wanted to submit a proposed order to a judge for consideration, the attorney had to draft a letter, prepare a court order submission cover sheet, prepare four hard copies of the proposed order, and then employ staff or a courier to deliver the order to the judge’s case coordinator. Once the judge’s case coordinator notified the lawyer that the order was signed by the judge, then the attorney had to employ staff or a courier to travel to and from the courthouse again to retrieve the order, and then do a letter to opposing counsel with the order to be sent by mail.
Additionally, attorneys often have to pull existing case files at the courthouse or perform background checks on parties or related witnesses. Before the eCourts portal, attorneys would have to submit a written request to the Clerk of Court for a background check on a person, or physically travel to the courthouse to search for existing civil or criminal cases in which that person might be a party. Once the lawyer located the file, the attorney then had to make a formal request through the Clerk’s Office for a copy of the file to be copied and emailed to them. This process often took days (or sometimes weeks) to learn the information needed.
Clients pay for the costs and fees related to their cases. So, the old way of background checks, research of court files, and filing documents and submitting orders amounted to a lot of time and costs for the client. With the eCourts portal, now you can easily do background checks, research criminal and civil cases in which a person is a party and review the filed documents in the eCourts portal. Lawyers can file and serve court documents electronically rather than paying a courier to take them to the courthouse.
eCourts isn’t just for attorneys. The great thing about the new eCourts portal is that it is available to the general public. So, unless it’s a confidential or restricted filing, like a domestic violence case, anyone can search the system, pay costs online and register to file documents. Moreover, if a party is unsure when a hearing is scheduled, what claims are pending, or what orders have been entered in the case, then that party can easily locate the complete history of the case, including court dates and upcoming hearings online, 24/7.
The eCourts portal not only promotes efficiencies and cost-savings for clients, but it also promotes greater public access to the court system. In the past, a client might have had to contact his/her lawyer to obtain copies of court documents or get reminders for hearing dates or the status of orders or just general information about the status of a court file. Someone who didn’t have a lawyer would have to travel to the courthouse (which can be very intimidating to those not familiar with the legal system) and try to find who to ask to obtain needed information. Now, anyone can easily go online day or night and see the current status of a case, learn information, or retrieve PDFs of court documents.
How do you access eCourts?
To file documents within the system, you have to register. If you are represented by an attorney, your attorney will be the one who registers and files documents in your case. You can learn more about the efile part of the system by visiting eFile NC.
To access the portal, you can search public records without creating an account. You can find more information about the eCourts Portal here.
eCourts are evolving and likely will involve remote appearances and remote testimony in some cases. For more information on eCourts in North Carolina, visit eCourts | North Carolina Judicial Branch.