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Case record requests must be specific, court rules

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    News Media Update         MISSOURI         Freedom of Information    

Case record requests must be specific, court rules

  • The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that public court records must be requested by individual case or existing public index, not by subject.

May 4, 2004 — Requesters of public court documents under the state’s Sunshine Law and a court operating rule must identify the specific case they seek or use existing public indexes, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled last week. Requests for court records do not have to be filled when information is sought by general subject matter, the court held.

In July 2000, apartment building owner Kennedy Jones requested various records from the Jackson County Circuit Court in Kansas City, Mo., regarding conflicts between landlords and tenants. He requested that the records be provided in a CD-ROM format.

Court administrator Teresa York denied the request because the rules governing state court operations only require the records to be available “by inquiry of a single case or by accessing any public index.” The public electronic indexes allow cases to be searched by party name, case number or date.

On Nov. 19, 2001, Jones filed a lawsuit, arguing that York’s refusal to process his request was unreasonable because the court’s computer software is capable of searching the records by subject matter. The trial court dismissed the suit on April 9, 2002, holding that the laws did not require court records to be made available pursuant to requests based on subject matter, or in a particular format.

Jones appealed, and more than two years later, on April 30, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Judge Patricia Breckenridge wrote that while the records were public, the court rule does not require “that the judiciary must make records retrievable by a requested method or available in a requested format whenever it is technologically or economically feasible to do so.”

The court ruled that the Sunshine Law requires public access to the records, but that access is governed by Court Operating Rule 2.

(Jones v. Jackson County Circuit Court; Media Counsel: Jean Ann Maneke, Kansas City, Mo.) GP

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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