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(With hat tip to William P. Statsky)

My home email software has a spam folder where unwanted emails go to die – eventually. I must deliberately choose to send an email to the spam folder. Then, I must decide whether let it remain in perpetual limbo as spam, block it, or delete it.

Imagine the number of emails routinely sent and received by most law firms.  My computer’s email setup would not be practical.  But, when it comes to email configuration, there are good choices and bad ones. A Florida law firm rejected recommended safeguards to snag spam and allow someone, other than the computer, to decide whether to delete the email. That decision, along with others, turned out to be a bad call.

Here are the facts. The trial court’s court clerk served an order by email on the parties. The order awarded a significant amount of attorney fees to the appellee. The appellant claimed it did not receive the emailed order, which is why it failed timely to file an appeal. What happened? The firm’s email system automatically deleted the court clerk’s email and attached order as spam.

The appellant appealed and asked the court to vacate the original order and reenter the order to allow the appellant to appeal. Its email deletion error was “excusable neglect.” Not so said that trial court, and the Florida’s First District Court of Appeal affirmed.

The appellate court gave several specific reasons for rejecting the appellant’s argument.  First, the review of the court clerk’s email logs confirmed that the email with the court’s order was served and received by the law firm’s server. Second, the law firm’s email configuration made it impossible to determine whether the firm’s server received the email. Third, the law firm’s former IT specialist’s advice against this configuration flaw was deliberately rejected by the law firm because its alternative cost more money.

The trial court concluded the law firm made a conscious decision to use a defective email configuration merely to save money, which was not “excusable neglect.”

Another nail in the coffin was testimony by the appellee’s attorney. His firm assigned a paralegal to check the court’s website every three weeks to safeguard that his firm would not miss any orders or deadlines.  The court held that the appellant had a duty to check the court’s electronic docket.

What’s the moral here? Lawyers must configure their computer systems to prevent this costly error. And they must employ a “meaningful procedure” to prevent the series of events that caused this fatal error.

I rather liked the idea of the paralegal assigned to check the court’s online file. In this instance, the paralegal checked it every three weeks. I would modify this depending on the notice time required by your court’s rules.

I recommend reading the entire opinion for its analysis on “excusable neglect.” You can find the opinion here: http://bit.ly/2xI3gGB. -CCE

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