Seriously late – The Ukiah Daily Journal

The federal courts have undergone significant procedural changes over the past two decades that have likely eluded everyone but the people who work in that particular vineyard (i.e. lawyers). Since the early 2000s, federal courts have moved to an “e-filing” system, which requires that most documents, except for the initial lawsuit itself, be transmitted electronically to federal court. (County by county, California state courts are just playing catch-up.)

Almost all documents in every case now that are not already computer files must be scanned (usually in Adobe Acrobat format) and can then be filed as quickly as one can send an email. Attorneys practicing in federal courts must register to use the e-filing system; we give them a password and it’s off to the races.

On the one hand, it has great advantages, especially for lawyers who live in rural areas. Federal courts are typically located only in major cities within a given state, and “e-filing” avoids having to send large amounts of documents the day before they are due using overnight mail, Federal Express, or any another last minute delivery. service.

At the same time, much of the advantage of using e-filing is undermined by some individual federal judges – many of whom still require hard copies of everything to be delivered within about a day of filing. electronic. This saves court staff the hassle of having to print each document at its end, but it actually doubles the work of lawyers. Their staff have to put together both an electronic and a hard copy of everything to conform to the whims of judges who just don’t like reading everything on a computer screen.

However, none of this means that e-filing has been smooth as silk, even for the judges it is supposed to assist. Perhaps the best example came shortly after the system was implemented, in a 2003 lawsuit in federal district court in Wisconsin between a software company, Hyperphrase Technologies, and computer giant Microsoft over alleged that Microsoft infringed patents owned by Hyperphrase.

The case proceeded at the usual (i.e. slow) pace that prosecutions tend to follow. And then in the middle of the case came a dispute over the production of documents. The dispute landed before Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker, who issued a short order warning the parties: “Given the broad areas of agreement between the parties regarding these matters, they should be able to resolve quickly and expeditiously. amicably any residual misunderstanding or disagreement. Mutual accommodation is required, speckling and stubbornness are prohibited.

You wouldn’t think the judge would have to tell them that – but he was dealing with lawyers, after all.

Both sides then asked the judge to decide the case in their favor by filing massive documents and legal arguments, in a procedure known as a “motion for summary judgment”. Each party had until June 25, 2003 to obtain its documents on file. Hyperphrase apparently “filed online” in time, but Microsoft folks had a little more trouble.

As Justice Crocker explained, “Any electronic document may be filed electronically until midnight on the due date. In an outrageous affront to this court’s deadlines, Microsoft did not file its motion for summary judgment until 12:04:27 a.m. on June 26, 2003, with exhibits arriving until 1:11:15 a.m. I don’t know this personally because I slept at home, but that’s what the court computer recording program says, so I’ll accept it as true.

He continued, “Microsoft’s recklessness pissed off Hyperphrase so much as nine of its attorneys. . . promptly filed a motion to strike the motion for summary judgment for delay. The lawyer used bold italics to make his point, a clear sign of grave iniquity on the part of his enemy. Certainly, this court made an order. . . ordering the parties not to blow their noses, but how could such an order apply to a motion filed almost five minutes late? »

Although why it took nine lawyers to make this argument also remained unexplained.

In a Solomon-esque conclusion, however, Crocker smoothed it all over: “Although this tribunal may be hurt by Microsoft’s four-minute, twenty-seven-second dereliction of duty, it will transcend the affront and forgive the delay.” Indeed, to demonstrate the impartiality of his magnanimity, the court will allow Hyperphrase on a future occasion in this case to electronically file a motion four minutes and thirty seconds late, with supporting documents to follow until seventy-two minutes later. ”

Despite the passage of time, it is unclear whether Hyperphrase ever accepted Judge Crocker’s magnanimous offer of an additional four minutes and thirty seconds on a later filing.

Frank Zotter, Jr. is an attorney from Ukiah.

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