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Committee recommends court records be available online

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    News Media Update         FLORIDA         Secret Courts         March 31, 2005    

Committee recommends court records be available online

  • A moratorium on electronic access to state court records remains in place as a court committee studies the issue.

March 31, 2005 — Most Florida court records would be electronically accessible to the public under a recommendation made Monday by the Florida Supreme Court Committee on Privacy and Court Records.

Nine of 13 voting committee members supported providing online access to court records, said Carol LoCicero, an attorney with Holland & Knight in Tampa, Fla., who has monitored the issue for more than a year. She represents a media coalition of Florida newspapers and television stations that has urged the committee to make electronic access the same as courthouse access.

“Reporters can do their job better the more that they can gather information and data, and compare cases and prepare for hearings they’re going to cover by having the full case file at their fingertips,” LoCicero said in a telephone interview.

She views it as “hopeful” that a majority of the 15-member committee voted that courts should make electronic access an “affirmative goal,” but she remains concerned about which records the committee will recommend be exempt from electronic access. The panel discussed keeping all juvenile, family and probate court records off the Internet, pursuant to current Florida law. Paper copies of juvenile court records and probate inventories — documents listing assets in wills — are not open in Florida.

The committee also proposed prohibiting electronic access to photos depicting bodily injury and documents such as medical records.

“I’m concerned to see what recommendations for exemptions they propose, because I think we’ve got more than enough,” LoCicero said.

In the meantime, a moratorium imposed in November 2003 on electronic access to most state court records remains. The only documents now available by remote access in Florida are official records, such as real estate titles and marriage records, as well as documents like docket sheets, hearing schedules and court calendars, and some pleadings upon request.

Not everyone thinks electronic access is a good idea. Fifth District Court of Appeal Judge Jacqueline R. Griffin told The Orlando Sentinel the committee would “rue the day” it decided to put court records on the Internet.

The committee is scheduled to meet April 12 by conference call and hopes to issue a draft report on its recommendations by April 15, LoCicero said. The panel has until July 1 to recommend to the state Supreme Court a comprehensive policy on electronic access to court records.

LoCicero noted that after the committee makes its final report this summer, the state Supreme Court will write rules in accordance with the new policy. The court also may establish a governing body to ensure court clerks comply with confidentiality rules. Open-records advocates will have to stay vigilant so that public access is not wrongfully blocked, LoCicero said .

“We’re going to have to be monitoring and working on this issue for a long time,” she said.

KK

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