How the Bar Can Help the Clerk's Office
Although Congress averted the fiscal cliff by passing the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on January 1, it left unresolved the "sequestration" spending cuts portion of the problem, both long term and regarding the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. This means that the federal courts are in a holding pattern, and are still operating under a continuing resolution that, for the United States District Court for the Central District of California, calls for a first-quarter budget equal to last year's expenditures minus 10.2%, an approximate reduction of $1.5 million when extrapolated over an entire year. While the Clerk's Office has been making significant strides in cutting costs and maximizing resources in order to make the operation of the Court more efficient, the success of many of these measures depends upon the assistance and support of the attorneys who practice before the Court. Doing the following, and getting everyone else in your firm to do the same, will help the Clerk's Office immensely.
- Consent to electronic service if you haven't done so already. Reducing the volume of paper notices that must be mailed will significantly reduce the Court's postage and paper costs, and also saves time and reduces labor for Clerk's Office staff. In addition to the benefits to the Clerk's Office, electronic service enables attorneys to access documents as soon as they are filed, without the delay associated with receiving documents sent by mail.
- Keep your e-mail address, and all other attorney information, up to date. The Clerk's Office has one staff member who works full time verifying e-mail addresses from "bounced" e-mail service, and erroneous e-mail addresses also lead to a costly increase in paper service. In addition to filing a Notice of Change of Attorney Information, registered CM/ECF users should also update their attorney information in CM/ECF.
- When filing complaints and other claim-initiating documents, e-mail the document (along with all associated documents, such as the Notice of Assignment, Summons, and Civil Cover Sheet) in PDF format to the Clerk's Office by close of business the following business day. While this is required under the Local Rules, attorneys often neglect to timely e-mail the PDF version, creating more follow-up work for the Clerk's Office. Additionally, reminding your staff that complaints and other claim-initiating documents must be manually filed in paper format would reduce the number of phone calls to our ECF Help Desk asking about the docket event to use to electronically file these types of documents.
- Consult the Court's website at www.cacd.uscourts.gov before calling the Clerk's Office with questions. The Clerk's Office recently redesigned the website to make information easier to locate, and the word-search function has been improved to make accessing information even faster. In particular, consulting the Local Rules or the Frequently Asked Questions on the E-Filing homepage can eliminate the need to call the ECF Help Desk or other court staff. Also, checking the website to ensure that you and your staff are using the most recent version of Court forms, and adhering to the instructions on the forms, may eliminate the need for the Clerk's Office to issue a deficiency notice.
- Check the "Judges' Procedures and Schedules" on the Court's website before contacting the judge's courtroom deputy clerk or the ECF Help Desk with questions. Each judge's page contains extensive information about the judge's procedures and his or her standing, pretrial, and trial orders, which may include the answer to your question. If your question isn't answered, each judge's page also informs you of the best way to contact his or her courtroom deputy clerk, either by telephone or by e-mail. If you must contact the courtroom deputy clerk, adhere to his or her stated preference, and do not leave multiple messages regarding the same issue. Also, do not contact the courtroom deputy clerk to ask if a document has been signed, as they have been instructed to contact counsel regarding urgent items that have been signed.
- Utilize the computer-based training modules on electronic filing on the Court's website. Although this training is no longer mandatory, doing so is a good way for you and your staff to learn how to use the Court's CM/ECF system more fully and effectively, and can lead to a reduction in calls to our overburdened ECF Help Desk.
- Before calling the ECF Help Desk to ask about the appropriate docketing event to use when electronically filing a document, try using the "Search" feature on the CM/ECF menu bar. Becoming acquainted with this feature not only reduces the need to call the ECF Help Desk, but can also lead to more accurate entry of docketing events, which would significantly reduce the amount of work and follow-up by Clerk's Office staff.
- If documents must be redacted, ensure that they are redacted before they are electronically filed. When a document is inadvertently electronically filed prior to redaction and the Clerk's Office is notified, the Clerk's Office must take action to seal the document until the redacted version is filed.
- When another type of error is made in submitting an electronically filed document, wait for a Notice to Filer of Deficiencies in Electronically Filed Documents to be sent to you rather than calling the ECF Help Desk. Doing so would decrease the number of unnecessary calls to our ECF Help Desk, as corrective action often is not necessary.
- As provided in Local Civil Rule 5-4.4.1, when a proposed order or other proposed document requiring a judge's signature accompanies an electronic filing, remember to include the proposed order or document in PDF format as an attachment with the electronically filed main document. When a proposed order or other document is not lodged with a main document, remember to electronically lodge the proposed order or other proposed document as an attachment to a Notice of Lodging and, if the proposed order or other document is being submitted in response to a court order, to link the Notice of Lodging to that court order.
- Also remember to submit lodged proposed orders or other proposed documents requiring a judge's signature in WordPerfect or Word format to the assigned judge's generic e-mail address using the CM/ECF system pursuant to Local Civil Rule 5-4.4.2, and promptly to deliver mandatory chambers copies to the judge pursuant to the Judge's Procedures and Schedules. When electronically filing documents requiring a judge's signature in unassigned criminal or magistrate judge (case type "mj") cases, remember to e-mail the document in WordPerfect or Word format to the appropriate criminal intake e-mail box.
- Confirm that the attorneys listed on pleadings filed with the Court are admitted to the bar of the Central District of California, which can be done by conducting an Attorney Admissions Search on our Court's website. When a non-admitted attorney is listed on a pleading, the Clerk's Office must notify the attorney by letter and perform the necessary follow-up, creating additional work for staff.
- Encourage new attorneys to apply for admission to the bar of the Central District of California online via the Court's website, rather than in person or by mail. In addition to being quick and easy for the attorney, applying online saves time and labor for the Clerk's Office.
- Notify the Clerk's Office of any errors or malfunctioning links on the Court's website by clicking on "Contact Us" in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage. The Clerk's Office recently redesigned the Court's website, and we want the website to work well for you.
- Consider consenting to magistrate judge jurisdiction through the voluntary consent list or under the Direct Assignment of Civil Cases to Magistrate Judges Program. Doing so could result in an earlier and firm trial date and faster disposition of the case, which will help the Clerk's Office.
Doing these simple things in the regular course of your business with the Court would cumulatively result in great savings in time, labor and costs for the Clerk's Office. Another way the bar can help the Clerk's Office in a more out-of-the-ordinary manner involves a project our Information Technology (IT) staff would like to undertake to reduce the many hours of staff time it spends each day scheduling and providing training to attorneys on the proper use of courtroom audiovisual equipment to display evidence. Our IT staff would like to create instructional videos which would be made available to the bar on our Court's website, and the bar can assist in this effort by providing staff to assist with the recording and editing of a training session. If your law office or firm has IT staff with video recording and editing skills who can provide such assistance, please contact John Hermann at (213) 894-5451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In spite of severe budgetary cutbacks, the Clerk's Office remains committed to providing quality service to those who appear before our Court. To a great extent, however, the success of the efficiencies we implement will depend on those to whom we provide service. By doing the simple things listed above, attorneys can help the Clerk's Office weather this harsh budgetary climate more effectively so it can continue to provide quality service with minimal impact in the inevitably bleaker times to come. Together, we can effectively and efficiently serve the Court, litigants, and the public!