NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · ARKANSAS · Secret Courts · Feb. 27, 2007
Court adopts public access rules
Feb. 27, 2007 · Arkansas’s Supreme Court adopted an administrative order on Thursday that defines which court records can be excluded from public access when requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
The order is the product of the Task Force on Public Access and Privacy, which was created by the state Supreme Court in 2004.
The task force aimed to produce an order that balances the public’s right to information with an individual’s right to privacy and protection from identity fraud.
The court published an initial order in June and then modified the document to incorporate public comments.
The final order says that any individual can access court records under Arkansas’s Freedom of Information Act, but lists exceptions to disclosure that include information barred from public access under federal or state law, or under a court order or ruling.
Also excluded from public access are Social Security numbers, account numbers and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs), information from sealed or expunged cases, litigants’ addresses and phone numbers, and notes, communications or deliberative materials that relate to the decisions of court officials.
If any of the exceptions are mentioned in open court and included in a court transcript, however, they cannot be excluded from public access.
In addition, individuals may gain access to exempted information if they can prove in writing that “the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm in disclosure,” according to the order.
All documents containing restricted information will be released after that information is redacted.
The order also instructs Arkansas courts to make listings of case filings, dockets of court proceedings, and any judgments, orders, or decrees accessible to the public online, unless the information is subject to an exemption.
The order takes effect July 1, but the requirements for redaction do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2009, to give court clerks and attorneys time to “familiarize themselves with the process and prepare for implementation,” the court states.
Richard Peltz, a law professor at the University of Arkansas, said the order is “very friendly to public access.”
“Its adoption is wonderful news and a big step forward for Arkansas,” Peltz said.
(In Re: Adoption of Administrative Order Number 19 – Access to Court Records) — MA