More On Privacy and Court Records

Just a few semi-random notes from the meeting I'm attending in Tampa on privacy and court records.

  • Florida's open records law doesn't apply to judicial committees. Thus, although the meetings are open to the public and there's even a court reporter here writing down everything said during the two days (hired by a private law firm for its own benefit; I guess it's cheaper than sending a lawyer), groups of us are allowed to dine together socially without violating the law. Executive branch committees can't do that in Florida without violating the Open Meetings laws. Alas, it was raining last night so a group of us dined in the hotel. Good food, but no way the state's per diem will cover the bill.
  • The Committee has an impressive amount of expertise. Many of the members are veterans not just of the bench and of judicial administration reforms but of several previous court committees on high tech subjects. One thing that I can’t help noticing, however, is how the dominant presentational style is North or Central Florida, rather than the South Florida I'm used to. That means people are frequently soft-spoken, vaguely Southern, almost always over-modest. Even the judges are remarkably kind and pleasant, which is not inevitable in my experience (is this a side-effect of an elected bench? Or just smart selecting by the committee organizers?).
  • One of the speakers, Susan Larson, pointed us to a comprehensive web site she maintains on Public Access to Court Records, which looks like a treasure trove of material about what other jurisdictions are doing.
  • I am not very impressed with the abilities of many of Florida's politicians. I am impressed with the quality of the state (not local!) bureaucracy. My dealings with people in the Secretary of State's office a few years ago on digital signature matters was a happy surprise. The people from the Supreme Court Clerk's office are even more impressive.
  • The problems that the committee is charged with solving are even more complicated than I feared, especially given the thicket of relevant federal and Florida constitutional provisions (and separation of powers issuess…), statutes, rules of court, and issues of relations between courts and regional court clerks (who are separately elected and powerful local officials).
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