CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Supreme Court says it’s going to mandate a uniformed court filing system for all circuit clerk offices in West Virginia.
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said Thursday the Court has been considering this move for sometime but decided to step it up following a case filing controversy in Kanawha County.
“What this will mean is that records from throughout the state will be on a single system,” Canterbury said. “So members of the public, lawyers, the press will be able to access this information.”
The Court has chosen 14 counties for an E-Filing pilot project as it continues to study the issue.
The decision comes along with a report concerning a controversy from earlier this year involving Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster. She mistakenly dismissed a case, causing a man to be released from jail. Canterbury said the situation pointed out Kanawha County’s less-than-perfect case filing system.
“What Carrie Webster did does not rise to the level of any kind of Judicial Investigation Commission ethics violation or investigation. It was an error, a set of errors. It was kind of one error repeated several times,” Canterbury said adding the circuit clerk’s office could have done a better job communicating with the judge.
“This was a good place to learn a lesson, specifically for Judge Webster, specifically for the clerk’s office and for us, systemically for the state,” according to Canterbury.
The Court anticipates attorneys will be charged a fee to E-File a case in circuit clerk offices and those who want to view those electronic files will be charged a yearly rate. Canterbury said it would be cheaper than going to a circuit clerk’s office and getting paper copies of a case.
The 14 counties chosen to have the unified filing system first include: Berkeley, Braxton, Cabell, Hampshire, Harrison, Jefferson, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Morgan, Ohio, Randolph, Upshur and Wood.
Canterbury said the Supreme Court has been budgeting money for such a system for the past few years. He said the counties would not have to pay for it.
A comprehensive review committee of all stakeholders will be appointed to help create and improve the unified system. Continuing education classes will also be provided for lawyers on the subject of E-Filing.
The Supreme Court hopes to have the pilot counties up and running during the next year.
Judge Webster issued the following statement Thursday evening:
“The Supreme Court’s Report underscores the inherent difficulties that circuit judges and circuit clerks routinely encounter in the administration of a judicial circuit’s docket. A judge’s criminal docket alone generates a substantial number of court orders which must be processed by the circuit clerk’s office on a daily basis. To that end, I am glad the Supreme Court’s findings re-affirm that any mistake or error was procedural in nature, and that the same was addressed and corrected in an expeditious manner. I also welcome its further conclusion that there was no evidence of any ethical or legal wrongdoing. Finally, I applaud the Supreme Court’s announcement of its new Unified, E-Filng system, and am glad that this regrettable episode will serve as a catalyst for much needed modernizations of the circuit clerk filing and docket systems throughout the state.”