Electronic filing, service begins in Mass Litigation Cases

CHARLESTON -– For the first time in West Virginia history, a Circuit Court Judge sitting in one county has taken action on a case pending in another county using electronic filing and service through LexisNexis File & Serve.

Nineteenth Circuit Judge Alan D. Moats of Taylor and Barbour Counties and Chairman of the Mass Litigation Panel entered the first electronically filed order and served it on all counsel of record in the Digitek Litigation that is pending in Kanawha Circuit Court.

The order was filed and served in a matter of minutes, instead of the days or weeks it can take using traditional methods of filing and service when cases are pending in one Circuit, but the presiding judge is located in another Circuit.

"Electronic filing and service will benefit the court system, attorneys and parties alike," Moats said. "Online clerk and judicial review of filed documents will improve court operations, while the online document depository will improve access to filed documents for everyone."

On July 1, 2007, then-Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis of the sate Supreme Court of Appeals directed the Mass Litigation Panel to propose new rules to the Court governing mass litigation. The Panel worked closely with Clerk of the Supreme Court Rory Perry and Deputy Clerk Edythe Nash on these rules, which included a new Trial Court Rule governing electronic filing and service. On Oct. 9, 2008, the Supreme Court of Appeals approved that rule.

Chief Justice Spike Maynard entered an order transferring all pending and subsequently filed Digitek cases in the State of West Virginia to the Mass Litigation Panel on Sept. 18. The Panel has entered orders requiring the Digitek Litigation and certain cases in the Asbestos Personal Injury Litigation in which First Circuit Judge Ronald E. Wilson presides to be subject to e-filing and service beginning on Dec. 8.

While Wilson sits in Hancock County, the asbestos cases in which he presides also are pending in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

E-filing and service is a welcome change for Kanawha Circuit Clerk Cathy Gatson, whose office manages the filings in both the Digitek Litigation and the Asbestos Personal Injury Litigation.

"E-filing and service will save time and allow our office to manage large numbers of filings electronically," Gatson said. "Mass litigation has created huge numbers of documents that currently require countless hours to manage. E-filing and service will significantly improve that process."

E-filing doesn't just provide a quicker, more efficient way to exchange information in the judicial system. According to Tobias Hartmann, vice president and managing director of File & Serve for LexisNexis, "The courts and law firms that have implemented File & Serve have demonstrated that they can improve their efficiency and significantly lower costs while dramatically reducing the consumption of paper, energy and pollution at a time when our planet requires more responsible management of natural resources."

The Panel plans to enter an order requiring e-filing and service in the Flood Litigation, in which Tenth Circuit Judge John A. Hutchison of Raleigh County presides, in the near future.

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