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Panel studying access to court records seeks more time to complete its work

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A special subcommittee examining how quickly the press and public can access court records is asking for an extension to the end of the year to finish its work.

Judge Jeffrey KuntzThe subcommittee, made up of members of the Bar’s Rules of Judicial Administration Committee and the Supreme Court’s Florida Courts Technology Commission, had an August 31 deadline (which had been extended from an original June 6 target) for submitting a report to the court.

The court asked the committee to investigate complaints from media organizations that it takes too long to get access to electronically filed court documents from clerks of courts.

It typically takes about a day for an electronically filed document to be docketed, and it takes additional time for clerks to review the documents to redact information required to be kept confidential under Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420. Lawyers can also request a hearing to protect information that is confidential under state statutes but not automatically exempted under the rule.

Subcommittee members said the new deadline will give them time to have a Bar Board of Governors review in December if the panel ultimately recommends changing a court procedural rule.

The subcommittee also is expected to consider problems court clerks are having complying with the new Marsy’s Law victims’ rights constitutional amendment approved by voters last November. The law allows crime victims to request that identifying information be kept confidential, but clerks said in many cases they both lack authority from the court to withhold the information and have no way of knowing when that information is in documents that flow through their offices into court files.

The subcommittee also has new leaders. Rules of Judicial Committee Administration Chair Judge Josephine Gagliardi appointed Fourth District Court of Appeal Judge Jeffrey Kuntz as chair and Matt Wilson, an attorney with Children’s Legal Services, as vice chair. Both are members of RJAC. Former co-chairs Tom Hall and Amy Borman remain on the panel.

Earlier this year, the subcommittee voted 6-4 against recommending an amendment to Rule 2.420 to drop the mandate that clerks review civil filings to remove information automatically confidential under the rule. That would leave the responsibility for identifying that information entirely with the filing attorneys.

The rule requires attorneys to file a notice with clerks when their filings contain information in the rule’s 23 confidential categories — which range from health information to bank account numbers to Social Security numbers. Clerks and others have noted attorneys frequently fail to comply with that mandate, which could mean sensitive information winding up in public court files if clerks don’t do redaction on those documents.

The four subcommittee members are expected to file a minority report recommending the amendment if the committee does not reconsider its earlier action. Any rule change recommended by the subcommittee, in addition to being reviewed by the RJAC and the FCTC, would be reviewed by the Bar Board of Governors before going to the court.

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