Judges agree to form group that will study records access

Panel's proposal raises electronic data issues

January 07, 2003|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state's top judges agreed yesterday that a small group of them will try to unravel the complexities in a proposal to provide equal public access to paper and electronic court records, and will make suggestions to the full court.

Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Robert M. Bell named himself and Judges Lynne A. Battaglia and Alan M. Wilner to sort through the proposal to decide how to proceed. The decision was made at the end of an afternoon discussion about the recommendations from an 18-member, court-appointed panel.

An hour into deliberations, it became clear that different judges had focused on different potential implications of the proposal, had a variety of questions and were unclear on how a policy would be enacted.

The news media and those who buy the court system's data want the computerized records to remain available and the database expanded to cover all state courts. The information is used for things such as landlords' reference checks, employee criminal background searches and news investigations.

"Is electronic access the same as paper access? In theory it is, the access is the same. The users have different needs," Battaglia said.

But Judge Dale R. Cathell said that for electronic records, he wants the court's needs taken care of and does not think the court should fret over what commercial users want.

The proposed policy recommends making public access the same for electronic and paper records, a key point as more people want more information readily available. Some buyers prefer information sorted in a particular way, but some court clerks and administrators said that could prove burdensome.

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