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VOL. 127 | NO. 79 | Monday, April 23, 2012

Court Filings Steady for First Quarter

By Bill Dries

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Filings across three of the four civil courts in Shelby County were steady for the first three months of 2012 with a new category again showing up among the top three categories in Chancery Court.

And attorneys in all courts prepared for the coming of electronic filing – or e-filing – during the second quarter in Circuit and Chancery courts.

The nine divisions of Circuit Court remained the busiest of the three courts whose numbers were compiled by The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

Divorces, with and without children, accounted for about a third of the 1,840 filings in Circuit Court for the first quarter of 2012. The second highest category was hospital liens at 403, followed by 293 auto accident claims.

The total number of Circuit Court filings was just two more than the same quarter a year ago and up from 1,726 in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Divorces, hospital liens and auto accident claims were the top three categories in the other quarters as well, although sometimes in a different order.

Divorces are also heard in Chancery Court and were the top category for the first quarter, as is usually the case. The 169 divorces filed were out of 472 total filings across all categories. The second highest category was breach of contract claims at 62, and third was 26 filings for collection of delinquent taxes.

The 472 total filings marked a drop from 510 a year ago and 577 for Q4 2011.

The delinquent tax collection filings are a new category that is the result of the process being automated. The tax collection filings made their debut as a top three category in the Q4 2011 when they were the second highest category after divorces at 62 filings.

Probate Court filings remained as the most consistent set of court filings. The 307 filings in the first quarter compared to 326 a year ago and 229 for Q4 2011.

Wills remained the top category accounting for more than half of the filings. That was followed by the appointment of administrators at 74 filings, 57 conservatorships and 16 guardianships.

With court filings steady for Q1, the biggest change facing the court system is the coming shift to e-filing.

During the first quarter, Chancery Court Clerk Donna Russell and Circuit Court Clerk Jimmy Moore announced their offices would make the conversion to electronic filing of cases and records in June.

The two will be the first state courts in Tennessee to go to e-filing using a system similar to the PACER – Public Access to Court Electronic Records – already in use for years in the federal court system.

Both courts are already using the ACS Case Management system with Tybera e-filing software. More than 350,000 documents from existing cases have already been filed electronically.

“We are going to try to have a two-hour response time during business hours,” said Maury Wessels, Circuit Court manager of information systems, referring to the time between e-filing and when the clerk’s office posts the filings after checking to make sure they are in order. “But if somebody files something after hours, although we won’t approve it at midnight, they will be able to capture that filing time. … A lot of times the deadline is midnight.”

The two offices worked together on the system, which will include scanning a filing at the courthouse offices of both courts if an attorney files a hard copy.

But the change will mean employees in both offices have a different focus.

“We’re going to turn around and try our best to use all of that labor to implement more quality control, to make sure that everything that comes through is properly recorded, properly stored and properly available to folks who need it,” Wessels said.

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