Once upon a time, you had to drive to a county courthouse and request permission to view court records in person from the county clerk. Court records have always been open to public scrutiny, with some notable exceptions, but a “practical obscurity” limited access.
Now, thanks to the World Wide Web, without leaving your office you can access some of these court records through your computer, with more going online all the time. The Internet does away with practical obscurity and makes court information available to more people more quickly.
As the Internet changes the way we access information, such as court records, new guidelines are needed to balance the public’s right to view Indiana court records and your right to privacy if you’ve been involved in a case in Indiana state court. As it happens, new administrative rules for court records are currently under consideration by the Indiana Supreme Court, and the public has until Jan. 16, 2004, to submit comments.
The Indiana Supreme Court Task Force on Court Records has completely rewritten Administrative Rule 9, based in part on a national model adopted by the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators. The task force, consisting of judges, news media members, court clerks and representatives of other interested organizations, recommends that court records are public unless the information is expressly determined to be confidential.
Court officials fear that greater access to information contained in court records, such as information about jurors and witnesses, will have a negative impact on the operation of the courts, according to Indiana Supreme Court Justice Brent Dickson, who chaired the task force. The fear is that fewer people will come forward as witnesses and that people will be reluctant to sit on juries if personal information in court records becomes more easily available.
Among the information deemed confidential: adoption records, records relating to cases of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, some child abuse records, some records relating to drug tests, records of juvenile proceedings and paternity cases created after July 1, 1941, as well as identifying information such as Social Security numbers, Personal Identification Numbers, birth dates and addresses and phone numbers of victims and witnesses. The new rule provides guidelines for prohibiting public access to information in state court records, as well as rules for granting exceptions to exclusions. Proposed Administrative Rule 9 also encourages courts to provide off-site and 24/7 access to records and information not expressly excluded.
The proposed rule is now posted at www.in.gov/judiciary/orders/rule-amendments/proposed.html in MS Word and PDF formats. Or go to www.in.gov/judiciary, click on “Information,” then “Press Releases,” and you will find the link to proposed Administration Rule 9 posted on Nov. 13, 2003. You can also send comments by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to Ron Miller, Director of Trial Court Management, Division of State Court Administration, 115 W. Washington St., Ste. 1080, Indianapolis, IN 46204. The court will accept comments through Jan. 16, 2004.