Monday, November 25, 2013

Rise of the Machines: The E-Subpoena Edition

Back in 2010, when Chris Daniel ran against my friend and then-incumbent Loren Jackson for the job of District Clerk, I was not a supporter.  Loren had done such an amazing job in such a short amount of time with the technology in the Clerk's Office that I felt there was no way Daniels could continue at such a pace.

Although it took some time, Chris has won me over.  He and his staff have worked very hard at bringing so many records online for easy viewing.  They have also made exponential leaps in making E-Filing more and more convenient and accessible for attorneys.

As much as I love all the new technology, there are still a couple of kinks in the system that have to be worked out -- for instance, if you need a quick Motion for Continuance in a Court and they only accept e-filings, how do you get that done when you are away from your computer?

Today's complaint is about the E-Subpoena -- not so much about how the District Clerk's Office handles them, but how the Sheriff's Office does.

I've only filed an E-Subpoena on a handful of occasions.  The first one I did was pretty straight-forward until I got to the portion that asked how I wanted the subpoena served.

In my case, I had a subpoena duces tecum (a subpoena for records).  I wasn't expecting a problem, so having the subpoena served by standard channels was fine by me.

I selected "Peace Officer" and got this response:

Well, I wasn't requesting personal delivery.  Mailing the subpoena or however they wanted to do it would have been just fine with me.  So ultimately I clicked "Private" and just had my investigator pick up the damn subpoena and serve it.  

A few weeks later, I had a case where I decided that I needed personal service on it.  I'll change the facts up a little for Attorney-Client privilege purposes.  

Let's say that the client was accused of stealing something at a place of business where there were security cameras around.  One of those security cameras is right where the crime was allegedly committed.  So, I send a subpoena to that business asking for the video footage.

I ask for the Sheriff's Office to file it.

I never hear anything back from the business, so after a few weeks, I call them for a follow-up.  The very nice lady on the phone tells me that she had already contacted me and let me know that there was no such video footage.  She insists that she e-mailed me at the listed e-mail address on the subpoena.

I asked her if she would mind forwarding that e-mail to me at and she agreed to do so.

As she noted, she very dutifully had notified the e-mail address on the subpoena:

Now, there are two problems with this e-mail she sent.  First of all the "name written on the subpoena" was my client's name.  The Defendant's name is always on the subpoena.  My subpoena had requested film footage.  It wasn't specific to a person -- it was specific to a place.  The business clearly misunderstood and did a records search for my client and found nothing.  That was no surprise to me, since my client would not have any legitimate purpose for being there.

The second problem is that they weren't e-mailing me about the problem, they were e-mailing the Sheriff's Office.

That could have been handled easily if the Sheriff's Department had forwarded along the e-mail.

Instead, they did this:

Um, yeah, the ADA (Assistant District Attorney) didn't subpoena those records.  The Defense Attorney did.  Additionally, it wasn't an incorrect filing.  It was perfectly fine.  It was just misunderstood.

None of this information would have ever been learned if I hadn't called the business and asked what was going on with my subpoena.

This is definitely a kink that needs to be worked out between the Sheriff's Office and the District Clerk.  If subpoenas are going to be issued solely by E-Filing, then they need to be reliable.  If I had been issuing a subpoena for a person's attendance in court (rather than records), I would have been asking the Judge of the Court to issue a Writ of Attachment for the missing witness.

I don't know that a Judge would have been comfortable in doing so with such an unreliable system in place.

I'm all for the E-Filing and E-Subpoena System.  It is so much easier to issue subpoenas from my office rather than handwriting them out in court.  Chris Daniel and the Clerk's Office are headed in the right direction with it.

There are just some things that need to be fixed and fixed quickly.


Anonymous said...

Well don't let Brad Hart know things aren't completely ready yet. He won't even let his clerk's take a paper subpoena, not that he has that authority. Men in black robes...

Anonymous said...

Well someone needs to tell Brad Hart the system isn't ready yet. Men in black robes...

Anonymous said...

I welcome anyone to come to my office(I'll take the black robe off) and discuss any issues. Heck, I'll even meet you for a coffee on 2, if you'd prefer. I've made that offer repeatedly, whether about efiling or the new docket system or anything else. However, no one takes me up on it. If you think that I won't listen and have a discussion with you about it or any issues you might be having, you don't know me very well or you don't care to. I can't look into, fix or do anything about issues that I am not made aware of. Though I would request that it not be in the middle of the Friday docket. Additionally, just to be clear, we have routinely taken motions that need to be filed right then for some reason. Of course those folks usually come up and actually talk to me. So, my door is open. Seriously, happy to talk with anyone about it and hope you would be willing to listen with an open mind as well.

Brad Hart

Anonymous said...

Who cares about E-filing? Let's talk about big news. Lloyd Oliver has filed to run for DA as a democrat!

Anonymous said...

Lloyd Oliver! Thank goodness I can retire. Love my job, not willing to stay at a job for 4 years of crap again, in hopes it will get better.
Go, Devon! I'd like to work 4 years with you.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I bet Anonymous didn't expect that response, did you? A lot of people complain about things privately but never bring them to the attention of someone who has the power to address their concerns. That's why I like Judge Hart.

Anonymous said...

This blog post states:
"....As much as I love all the new technology, there are still a couple of kinks in the system that have to be worked out -- for instance, if you need a quick Motion for Continuance in a Court and they only accept e-filings, how do you get that done when you are away from your computer?"
My answer: check out the public computer on the 7th floor trial ready room. It is now hardware and software upgraded and online with desktop links to TexFile, FDAM sign-in, HCDClerk, fillable criminal subpoena application and subpoena forms, just bunches of stuff I have put on there. Need access to your own office computer? No problem - Set up a Dropbox; or click on GoToMyPC, or set up your files to access them on Microsoft Skydrive in Hotmail. You can also create a file AND FAX IT over the Internet via the GotFreeFax link (3 pages free). CHECK IT ALL OUT !!
BE FOREWARNED: JAN. 1, 2014 ALL,ALL ATTORNEY FILINGS FOR FAMILY AND CIVIL CASES MUST BE E-FILED. A number of criminal courts already are e-file capable!

COURTESTY - Attorney Tony Aninao

Anonymous said...

A lot of the problem is with the Sheriffs that "try" to serve the papers. Their lackadaisical attempts and lack of common sense are a disgrace, as exemplified in this post on their attempt. I hope their attention to detail in investigating crimes are better.

That's why professional private process servers are so much better. Yes, even their certification system is broke (changes being ramrodded through by organizations benefiting monetarily from the education portions), but they try harder. Why? Because they know that good customer service in their line of work means repeat business and staying in business. The Sheriffs don't have to worry about that, as they will automatically get a huge chunk of papers to play with.

Yes, I am a little passionate about it, since I used to serve papers until about a year ago. I no longer do that line of work (alot of labor and miles for very little profit unless you get a huge amount of papers to serve), but still know many private servers.

Spend a little more of a private server and you will end up saving time and money in the long run.