Privacy and Court Records

I'm off to Tampa early this morning for two days for the inaugural meeting of the Florida Supreme Court Committee on Privacy and Court Records.

If the truth be told, I suspect that the fundamental problem which the Committee is supposed to solve is a typical tragic choice, one with no pure solution. Thus, when first asked to serve, I expressed reluctance. But when pressed, I capitulated: service on committees like this is part of the social contract I think ought to apply to law professors.

So here I am. If there's a way to preserve the tradition of the fullest practicable public access to court records (a First Amendment right, and maybe a due process right too) in an age of cheap online full text access and also fully to protect the reasonable privacy interests of people caught up in Family Court or the like (especially pro se's who often disclose too much about themselves in their filings), I have yet to hear of it.

Some compromises are better than others, but they have resource implications that may be a tough sell in Florida. (Indeed the whole issue is quite political in this state as the revenues from selling electronic access accrue to the offices of the clerks of the regional courts, and they may well object to anything that threatens this revenue stream to their offices or imposes expensive redaction duties.)

Background reading, if you are so minded, begins with the Florida Judicial Management Council Privacy and Electronic Access to Court Records—Report and Recommendations (Dec. 17, 2001) and Florida Report of the Study Committee on Public Records (Feb. 15, 2003).

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