Reflecting an emerging trend around the country, courts in Orange County, California have implemented a portal for the submission of electronic evidence in select courtrooms. This new program was set in motion in response to the backlog of cases caused in large part by the COVID-19 shutdowns of courts during the early months of the pandemic. The goal according to the order released by Assistant Presiding Judge, Maria Hernandez, is to “provide greater access to justice, promote court efficiency, enhance evidence management practices, and facilitate remote proceedings.”
In this pilot program, certain courtrooms will require that evidence be submitted electronically into the system portal. Currently, the courtrooms using the portal are Departments C10, C61, VCC5 and W10. Departments C17, C64, C66 and L69 will begin utilizing the portal for hearings scheduled as of December 6, 2021, and Departments L60, L72, L73 and L67 for hearings scheduled as of January 10, 2022.
When practitioners enter the portal they will need the case type, case number and hearing date in order to properly access their matter. The court recommends using a desktop computer with a Chrome or Microsoft browser for the most optimal experience. The electronic evidence portal may be accessed here.
The order points to sections 128,177, and 187 of the California Code of Civil Procedure as authority for this new program. The order contains the following key provisions:
- All participating courtrooms will require that all evidence be submitted electronically through the portal rather than via any type of paper format.
- Evidence must only be uploaded to the portal in reference to a specific court case pending in a participating courtroom.
- Parties must upload evidence into the portal for legitimate litigation purposes only.
- Any confidential or sealed information or evidence must be marked as confidential during the uploading process.
- Evidence uploaded into the portal does not automatically become part of the court record. Uploaded evidence is considered “lodged”, which means it has been received by the court for temporary storage pending its use at trial or other proceeding. The party submitting the evidence will still be required to offer and authenticate the electronic evidence during the trial or proceeding and ask the court to admit the evidence as part of the record. Electronic evidence that is admitted as part of the court record will not be returned to the party after the court proceeding.
- Only parties, attorneys, or law enforcement officers may upload evidence in a traffic proceeding, unless a court orders otherwise.
- No visual depiction of a child engaging in sexually explicit conduct, or harmful matter, may be uploaded into the system. If any evidence of this nature is necessary for the case, parties should notify the court and proceed according to its instructions on this front.
- Any person granted access to confidential information on the portal shall not “download, use, disseminate, or copy” that information. The unauthorized use of any evidence in the electronic portal is prohibited.
- The disposition of electronic evidence will be pursuant to statute, party stipulation, or court order.
- Any violations in usage of the electronic portal may result in the violator being fined, held in contempt, or subject to criminal penalties or prosecution.
As more courts move toward electronic and paperless submission of evidence, this pilot program is likely to provide valuable data and assessment tools for courtrooms nationwide as attorneys, parties and judges learn how to best use this technology to increase efficiency as well as reducing the environmental footprint left by those utilizing the court system. Although the electronic evidence portal was catapulted into existence by necessity in response to the COVID-19 shutdowns; movements toward reducing paper usage and environmental concerns likely would have pushed the courts in this direction eventually.