FAQ: What Minnesota Lawyers Need to Know
The eFiling and eService of documents with Minnesota courts is now mandatory throughout the state. In this FAQ for MSBA members, a judge and an information technology officer from the courts review some of the more common queries about the process and its requirements.
We want to thank MSBA members for their strong partnership during our monumental eCourtMN transformation. Over the past year, we expanded eFiling and eService statewide and made the system mandatory for most court users. Today, more than 250,000 documents are eFiled in our courts every month. That’s the equivalent of a stack of paper 24 stories high—about the same height as the Hennepin County Government Center, Minnesota’s tallest courthouse.
This incredible transformation would not have been possible without the input and contributions of MSBA members, and we are extremely grateful for the strong partnership between the judiciary and the bar.
Finally, we’d like to remind MSBA members of the vast amount of resources available to help attorneys with questions about eFiling and eService. This includes training materials and other resources available at www.mncourts.gov/efile, as well as phone and e-mail help through the eFS Support Center. (Live links to the online services we refer to can be found at the online version of this article at www.mnbenchbar.com.)
Here are answers to a number of basic questions that have arisen about eFiling.
1) How has the mandatory eFiling change affected self-represented litigants? The rule is permissive for them—how many are taking advantage of eFiling, and of those who do, what supports and training exist and how successful has it been?
While we believe Minnesota’s transition to electronic filing of court documents provides numerous benefits to the courts, our justice partners, attorneys, and other regular court users, the Judicial Branch also recognizes that using the eFiling and eService system (eFS) requires some level of training and access to technology. From the start of the eCourtMN initiative, the Judicial Branch recognized that some accommodations would need to be afforded to self-represented litigants, to ensure that eFS didn’t act as a barrier to access to our courts. At the same time, we wanted to give all court participants the opportunity to take advantage of the efficiencies and benefits of eFiling.
The Minnesota rules of court reflect these goals by allowing—but not requiring—self-represented litigants to use eFS. To date, we have only seen a small number of self-represented litigants choosing to use eFS. In order to help these filers navigate the system, we have developed a Quick Reference Guide to help self-represented litigants create an eFS account. In addition, all court users, including self-represented litigants, are invited to contact the eFS Support Center through the mncourts.gov website for assistance when using eFS.
Ultimately, we want to make it as easy as possible for all court users to take advantage of the efficiency and speed of filing court documents electronically. We are currently exploring new tools to make it easier for self-represented litigants both to create and file documents with the court. This work continues Minnesota’s long-standing efforts to increase access to justice for all people in the state. It is a credit to the work of our entire justice system, and our partners in the Minnesota State Bar Association, that Minnesota received one of the highest scores in the country on the Justice Index, an independent examination of the performance of state-based justice systems in ensuring access to justice.
2) How successful has the policy been of having filers self-select the level of confidentiality on a document? What challenges have you seen?
Ensuring that filed documents are given the appropriate security classification is extremely important. Correctly classifying court documents ensures that the public has access to appropriate court records, that non-public information held by the courts is properly safeguarded, and that the Judicial Branch is able to share the right information with our justice partners.
One of the key ways we help ensure the accurate classification of documents is by having the filer select a security classification when filing the document, and then have a member of court staff either confirm or modify the filer’s selection. We want attorneys to take their role and responsibility in the process very seriously, and to select the correct classification based on the Minnesota rules of court.
The biggest challenge we see in this area is in helping filers understand what documents should be filed as confidential. When these issues do arise, it is typically because the filer classifies a document that should be public as confidential. We do our best to correct these issues in our review process before the document is officially entered into the court record, but this is an issue where more training and guidance may be helpful.
Another challenge is making sure that all filers understand that the security classification only affects how the court treats the document once it is accepted for filing. The security classification does not restrict who will receive the documents by eService. If a filer “selects all” in the eService list, confidential and sealed documents will be eServed along with the public documents. Thus, filers should be careful in selecting eService recipients, selecting only those who should receive confidential or sealed documents.
3) How secure is confidential data that has been submitted, given the two recent attacks on the Minnesota Judicial Branch? What protections are in place to protect Social Security numbers and other private data from hackers?
The recent cyberattacks launched against the Minnesota Judicial Branch website have been disruptive to court users. Thousands of people visit the Minnesota Judicial Branch website every day to access court resources and information and to conduct business with Minnesota’s courts. Many attorneys use the website as a portal to critical online tools, such as eFS and related resources. We take these attacks very seriously, and are working every day to improve our safeguards and prevent similar disruptions in the future.
We also take the security of our records extremely seriously, and have made significant efforts to safeguard our private data from cyberattacks. We are also working to educate our judges and court staff about the dangers of phishing, spoofing, and other types of malicious activities used by hackers to get past security infrastructure.
This question is also an important reminder about the crucial role attorneys and other filers play in securing non-public data. It is so important that attorneys keep non-public data—like Social Security or bank account numbers—out of public documents and in confidential forms.
4) Why can’t an attorney who is not a prosecutor or public defender have full access to cases on MNCIS, especially when they are listed as the attorney of record? Is there any momentum behind changing this restriction?
Minnesota court rules provide authority for government justice partners to receive different levels of remote and bulk access to court records than other court users. These rules were adopted by the Minnesota Supreme Court. These rules were recommended by the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Public Access to Records of the Judicial Branch, which included many attorneys from both the private and public sector (among others). In 2014 and 2015, the Advisory Committee spent months reviewing many difficult issues related to public access, including the appropriate level of remote access to court records. The rules adopted by the court largely mirror the Advisory Committee’s recommendations.
Notably, we are in the early stages of one of the most anticipated projects of our eCourtMN transformation: providing remote access (via the internet) for the general public to the vast majority of public court documents filed in district courts. This is a project that will be underway over the next year, though we have not yet finalized an expected completion date. Access will be provided under the provisions of Rule 8 of the Rules of Public Access to Records of the Judicial Branch.
5) Do you have to eFile in cases that were originally filed on paper?
If you are a mandatory eFiler—such as an attorney—then yes. Court staff have already converted most active court files to electronic files.
6) How does one use eServe if the party to be served does not show up in the contacts, or if you do not know the name of the party’s attorney? Example: the commissioner of a state agency, or an official of a local government agency.
This is a topic we cover frequently in our training materials and presentations. If it’s an initial filing in a civil action, the filer should complete service via conventional means, not through eFS. If it’s a subsequent filing, and the person is not listed as a service contact, the filer should contact the party and ask them to sign up for service on the case. Meanwhile, the filer will have to serve the other party by traditional means since one cannot sign opposing parties up for eService. However, because eService is mandatory for attorneys, parties should request the court’s assistance, including sanctions if appropriate, in forcing recalcitrant filers to follow the rules.
The Honorable PETER A. CAHILL is a judge in the 4th Judicial District. SHAY CLEARY is deputy director of the Information Technology Division of the Minnesota Judicial Branch.