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Committee receives extension to study speeding up public access to court filings

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Florida clerks logoA special committee studying how quickly new electronic court filings should be available to the press and public has been given until August 30 to submit its final report to the Supreme Court.

The Joint Florida Court Technology Commission/Rules of Judicial Administration Committee on Rule 2.420 had been ordered to report by June 3, but had requested an extension. The court, on June 3, granted that request and set the new August 30 deadline.

The committee has voted 6-3 (with one more vote to be tallied) to recommend that clerks of court continue to redact circuit and county civil filings for confidential information identified in Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420 (The clerks also perform redacting work in criminal filings, which is not being addressed here.)

The rule requires lawyers to identify if confidential information is in a filing and submit a separate document notifying the clerk about that information. The clerk also reviews the document for the confidential information, which can take an additional day or two after the filing is docketed and which delays its public availability. Some clerks wait until there is a request for a document to conduct the review and redaction, to save staff time.

The committee minority favors eliminating the redaction review for civil filings, arguing that would speed access to the records. The majority contended that many lawyers are not consistently following the rule and ending the clerk review process would result in confidential client information winding up in public court records.

Aside from potential harm to clients, that could open attorneys up to liability and disciplinary action for failing to protect client confidences and follow procedural rules.

At its June 4 meeting, Co-chair Tom Hall announced the new deadline. He also said while the committee may not recommend ending clerks’ review and redaction of civil filings, it may propose other changes such as setting a reasonable time to respond to public and press requests for court case documents.

In response to a question, Hall said while the committee will submit its final report to the Supreme Court, both the FCTC and the Rules of Judicial Administration Committee may also review and submit comments or their own recommendations to the court. The RJAC meets June 28 at the Bar’s Annual Convention and will get an update on the special committee’s work. The FCTC meets in early August.

The Rules of Judicial Administration Committee will be submitting a three-year cycle rule amendment report at the end of the year, that includes a rewrite of Rule 2.420 with the goal of shortening and simplifying the rule without making any substantive changes.

Hall said the August 30 deadline should allow any changes recommended by the special committee to be reviewed by the Bar Board of Governors and submitted at the same time as the regular-cycle amendments.

The committee was appointed by the Supreme Court after it received a complaint from Tampa attorney Carol LoCicero that clerks of court were taking too long to produce records that in some cases used to be instantly available when the court system used paper instead of electronic filing.

Clerks typically take about a day to get electronic filings docketed, which is the first time the public and press will have knowledge of a filing. It takes more time, sometimes a day or two, for the document to be reviewed and redacted before it becomes available to the public.