On Closing Court Records

Sensitive or embarrassing documents end up in court files everyday. A committee is trying to decide if average citizens should have to go to the courthouse to see those records, or if most court filings should be available online or not available at all.

Chairman Jon Mills says it is a delicate balance.

Jon Mills says, “We care about disclosing the innocent, the name of an innocent child that has been a subject of child abuse, yes we do. At the same time is it centrally important to make sure that the public has access to issues that deal with the integrity of the court system and the out-of-state officials they do."

The media argues a public record is public and some shouldn't be available only in paper form at the courthouse door.

Sarasota Herald Tribune editor Mike Connolly told the panel important stories will go uncovered if court records aren’t available online.

Mike says, "Many of the best stories about treatment of vulnerable people start with private citizens digging into a case. For most private citizens, seeking paper records is intimidating."

The issue isn't simple. Some judges on the panel think some records are just too sensitive to be available to the whole world on the Web.

Judge Edward Fine, Palm Beach Chief Judge, says, "In a divorce case a third party gets named as being part of love triangle. Then the case gets settled and it never gets ironed out and it’s just sitting there in the court records."

The panel will make recommendations on what should and shouldn't be public by next summer.


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