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Spam Filter Causes Lawyer to Miss Court Date

After having relied on the often unreliable postal service in Washington D.C. and slow mail filtering in my office building (often delaying delivery by up to a week), the availability of e-filing in the firm where I practice was huge cause for celebration. But perhaps I rejoiced too soon. Because after reading this horror story, Spam filter costs lawyers their day in court (Washington Post, 7/13/07), I've realized that not even my beloved e-filing systems are impervious to error.

As the article reports, a Colorado law firm that was being bombarded with pornographic and offensive spam directed its IT administrator to fix the problem. He changed the firm's firewall settings to block spam from reaching desktop computers. But because the administrator failed to "whitelist" certain permissible mail, the system also began blocking e-mail from the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. And wouldn't you know it -- the day that the spam settings were changed, the court sent the firm notice of a hearing in a civil lawsuit. The system blocked the message, the firm missed the hearing and the judge ordered the firm to pay attorney fees and expenses of the lawyers who showed up. 

This post at Spam criticized the court's sanction as excessive. From the post:

The firewall software was installed on May 21, 2007 the same day the court issued the initial Minute Order.  The court seems to go through an awful lot of trouble to prove its point (e.g., calling the IT administrator as a witness, examining the firewall log).  The court even seemed peeved that some other courts were whitelisted but it was not [writing that] as of the date of this hearing on June 20, 2007, Mr. Rea still had not whitelisted this court's domain name even though he previously whitelisted the court domain names of the Colorado State Courts prior to May 21, 2007. . . . See Barracuda Spam Firewall log sheets attached to Mr. Rea's affidavit which shows e-mails from Colorado State Courts were not blocked because they were whitelisted (docket no. 137-2)

Meanwhile, Jim Calloway offers solutions on  how firms can avoid this problem in the future. Calloway advises:

OK, here's a law practice tip you can take to the bank, folks. if you practice in any CM/ECF court, your spam filter needs to have a whitelist feature and you need to use it for every court that may send you an e-mail notice. Like it or not, once you have "agreed" to receive notices via e-mail, you just can't plead "my spam filter ate my homework." If your spam filter cannot do that, then you need a new one. Sometimes it might be as simple as adding a sender's address to your contacts to get it whitelisted.  I'm not saying it will be that easy for everyone. I about blew a gasket the other day when my spam filter told me there was a limit of 250 and I had to delete someone to be able to add someone. But you don't have a choice. The argument that it is too big a burden to manually maintain a whitelist was not persuasive to this judge nor will it be to others.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 13, 2007 at 07:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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