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Fairfax County Circuit Court launches electronic filing system for civil cases

Fairfax County Courthouse (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County residents getting a divorce or pursuing a personal injury lawsuit can now get documents filed electronically instead of trekking over to the county courthouse.

The Fairfax County Circuit Court launched a new e-filing system on Monday (May 2), a notable step for a court that requires a paid subscription for access to case information and an in-person visit to obtain documents except in a select few cases.

To develop the service, which is currently available for existing divorce, personal injury, and contract cases, the court has partnered with the Texas-based company File & Serve Express (FSX), which says it manages more than 80 million documents and works in 1,300 courts across 20 states and D.C.

“The Pandemic has changed the practice of law, with more remote-work and ‘virtual practice’ in the legal industry,” Circuit Court Deputy Clerk Gerarda Culipher said in a news release. “Offering eFiling to our customers improves their access to justice, saves them costs and trips to the courthouse, thus making our court system easier to navigate in a digital age.”

The service isn’t free, as FSX charges a “modest” subscription fee as well as a search fee for subscribers who want to look at non-sealed documents for cases where they’re not a party.

According to the release, the court has been piloting the e-filing system with “several” law firms, and the feedback so far has indicated that it’s easy to use, Circuit Court Clerk John Frey said.

Chief Judge Penney Azcarate issued an order on April 26 permitting the clerk’s office to implement e-filing. The order indicates that electronic filing will ultimately be available for documents in all civil and criminal cases.

The court, which handles over 30,000 criminal and civil cases a year, is introducing e-filing in phases to ensure the system can handle the volume and complexity of cases, Frey said. The divorce, contract, and personal injury cases in this first phase make up “the bulk of litigation,” according to the court.

The court says other civil cases will be added this summer, but it’ll be “a while” before the service expands to criminal cases, Chief Deputy Clerk Suzanne Lubkeman told FFXnow.

“We are looking forward to offering this service to everyone, as Phase 1 successfully launches, and we move on to expanding to all types of cases,” Frey said.

While the e-filing service is primarily relevant to lawyers, FSX has public access accounts that provide “real-time access to publicly-available court documents” across the country, according to the registration form.

The Circuit Court Clerk’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment seeking to clarify whether that will allow access to electronically filed documents in Fairfax County cases.

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