Court dismisses suit over exclusive records contract
INDIANA–In late December, a federal District Court in Indianapolis dismissed a class action lawsuit challenging a contract between Marion County and Ameritech Corporation that awarded the Chicago telecommunications company the exclusive right to provide offsite electronic access to court and law enforcement records.
Judge Larry McKinney rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that the contract violated the Equal Protection Clause or state and federal antitrust and open records laws. The complaint was filed by individuals and businesses that provide public records to others, all of whom formerly subscribed directly with the court for access to the documents.
The clerk of the Marion County Circuit Court contracted with Ameritech in 1994 to provide offsite electronic access to the court database, JUSTIS, which includes records from the civil, criminal and circuit courts and local law enforcement.
Rather than pay according to the length of time connected to Ameritech’s system, called CivicLink, users pay for the number of searches or records requested. Once a record is located, it can be printed at no charge.
Prior to the installation of CivicLink, individuals could directly subscribe to offsite access to JUSTIS for a $125 to $200 installation fee and a user fee of $0.25 for each minute with a minimum charge of $5. The court found that in switching to Ameritech, “remote access became more expensive yet it also became available to more people.”
McKinney noted that JUSTIS remains accessible through terminals located in the City-County Building, and hard copies of documents can be obtained from the court clerk’s office. According to the judge, the law requires agencies to make certain documents to the public upon request, but does not require that such be accomplished “in the manner most convenient to each member of the public.”
Ameritech has contracts with counties in Illinois and California giving it exclusive rights to distribute court records on-line. (Central Indiana Paralegal Service, Inc. v. City of Indianapolis and Marion County)