In the digital age, justice never takes a holiday…

In General, Litigation by Coolidge Wall

Even when the courthouse is closed on the weekends and holidays, the wheels of justice are still turning.

The Montgomery County, Ohio Clerk of Courts, in keeping with Dayton’s rich history of technological innovation, has an extensive electronic filing system that allows attorneys (and judges) to file documents 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from virtually anywhere on the planet that has a secure internet connection.

Each electronically filed document receives an electronic stamp that includes the date and time it was filed. With a keystroke, a judge signs an electronic document “via a digitalized image of his or her signature combined with a digital signature.” This technology allows judges to decide cases even on days when the court traditionally is closed for business.

But believe it or not, there are people who do not like this development.

In Bank of N.Y. Mellon v. Ackerman, 2nd Dist. No. 24390, 2012-Ohio-956, the common pleas court judge electronically signed a decision granting foreclosure to the bank using the e-filing system even though the courthouse was closed for Veterans’ Day. The couple facing foreclosure appealed the decision, arguing in part that the decision was improper because the judge entered the decision on a court holiday.

The Second District Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the common pleas court had no specific time when it was obligated to render decisions and certainly could surrender its holiday to work on cases if the judge so chose. The Second District also found no flaw with the use of an electronic signature. The couple also never showed how they were arguably harmed by the manner in which the foreclosure decision was filed. The Second District upheld the use of the e-filing technology on a legal holiday, as well as the underlying merits of the foreclosure. (Interestingly, the Second District does not participate in the Montgomery County e-filing system.)

You are probably aware that there are often negative consequences that arise out of technology’s ever-expanding presence in American life. Sometimes, these consequences require a fresh look at what the law sees fit to protect. But other times, technology puts us one step closer to accomplishing important societal goals, like providing justice that is as efficient as it is fair. Here, a judge used technology -and sacrificed a day off- to do just that.

The couple could ask the Ohio Supreme Court to consider the case, but it seems doubtful that the justices would want to discourage their colleagues on the bench from working overtime to achieve the courts’ raison d’etre.