April 15, 2003 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular News What court records should be posted online? Associate EditorIt’s fear of the “jammiesurfers” vs. adventurers of total access on the Internet frontier.That’s how Jonathan D. Kaney, Jr., general counsel for the First Amendment Foundation and vice chair of the legislature’s Study Committee on Public Records, summed up the debate about putting court records online.The most controversial recommendation of the committee’s final report, released February 15, calls for a two-year moratorium on “certain court records as determined by the Florida Supreme Court that are not part of the official record should not be accessible on the Internet.”And so, the issue of how best to balance privacy rights and public access to court records goes back to the Supreme Court for the appointment of yet another study group — the third one — to address the issue. The court has not yet taken any action, said spokesman Craig Waters.“Jammiesurfers” are those nosey souls who might want to check out titillating details of a neighbor’s divorce while anonymously clicking around on court clerk Web sites in the comfort of their own homes – but would never think of going down to the courthouse and publicly requesting the hard-copy file to rifle through page after page of documents.The judges on the study group, led by recommendations of Judge Jacqueline Griffin of the Fifth District Court of Appeal (who worked on the issue for the Judicial Management Council and was appointed by the chief justice to this legislative study committee), argued that court clerks are not screening their Web sites to be sure that information exempt under public information law is not included. For example, certain details in a juvenile’s record or family studies in a custody battle in family court should not wind up in cyberspace for the whole world to see. They are concerned by what Kaney describes as the “magnified effect of the Internet” — and the challenge to responsibly filter out the exempt material from the nonexempt.The court clerks on the study group, R.B. “Chips” Shore of Manatee County and Charlie Green from Lee County, don’t like the moratorium. Basically, their argument goes like this: We are clerks. We don’t create the court records. We are the custodians.“I’m a public information access person. I think it’s extremely beneficial to society to have an abundance of easy, accessible information. The moment you limit access to information, you form oligarchies or dictatorships,” Green told the Bonita Daily News.So on the day of reckoning, on the vote regarding the moratorium, it was four in favor of the judges who wanted restrictions on Internet access and four in favor of the clerks who wanted total access.All eyes turned to Kaney whose vote would break the tie on the most contentious issue that began as a permanent ban of court records on the Internet and ended in a compromise.To many people’s surprise, Kaney voted for the moratorium as a way to buy two-years time to do things thoughtfully and deliberately. He doesn’t want so much concern over the information getting into the “wrong hands” — like gruesome crime-scene photos showing up on Macabre.com — to mean they would throw the baby out with the bath water and have no Internet access of court records at all.“Why should we die on Internet Hill?” he asks.“I see it at two levels. From a public records advocacy point of view, where I come from, you’d like to think public means public and nothing is too public,” Kaney explained.“But I respect the privacy issue and that there should be some exemptions. When the legislature creates an exemption, that is the law. It will ruin public access if we don’t have exemptions. I tell my colleagues exemptions are our best friend, if done right.”Kaney said he also had a problem with the clerk’s proposal for users of the clerk’s Web site to have an ID password “to make sure you’re not the guy in the pj’s leering.”“I just can’t go along with selective access,” Kaney explained. “So Judge Griffin and I are temporary allies. She wants to do it never. I want two years. I think we can figure out a way to deal with exemptions and not turn Internet access into something handed out by 67 bureaucrats in 67 counties.”A court record needs to be equally accessible to judges, lawyers, and “Joe Sixpack,” Kaney argues.“My constituents — the board of the First Amendment Foundation made up of several editors — understood the distinction. We have not had an editorial blasting the moratorium,” Kaney said.He also takes issue with those who argue personal information should remain private.For example, he represented the media groups who did not want Dale Earnhardt’s autopsy photos exempt from public records.Thom Rumberger, chair of the Study Committee on Public Records who represented the Earnhardt family, argued to seal the records, which ultimately succeeded, because disclosure would inflict emotional trauma on the family of the deceased.As Kaney counters: “If we purify public records to prevent emotional trauma,” there go public records in a wide array of cases, including details in criminal case probable-cause affidavits.So now the big job of balancing privacy issues and public right to access issues is back at the Supreme Court.“What we want the court to do is tailor the moratorium so it deals with problematic categories of files, such as family law files or juvenile files,” Kaney said. “I know they will want input from the clerks before drafting an order on Internet restrictions.. . . This process needs to be a clear and open process.”To read the final report of the Study Committee on Public Records, go to the Web site for the governor, under Task Forces and Commissions: www.myflorida.com/myflorida/government/taskandcommissions/index.html What court records should be posted online?
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It occurred in Edmonton, where he decided to form an informal group willing to discuss the concept with others, including health care providers, who believe patients facing the same challenge can benefit from the practical information of those who have successfully dealt with it.The initiative has already been welcomed by Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich.“You are absolutely right that this sort of peer support is very helpful to people going through this kind of major medical experience,” Ulrich said.- Advertisement -Lantz, whose surgery was done on July 16th, notes that most people needing heart surgery from this area go to either Edmonton or Vancouver for the procedure, and it raises many questions about such things as preparation, travel, and recovery times.He says he was lucky, because he was able to talk with 2 people who had the same operation and “their experiences removed much of the fear and provided solid, practical information beyond what I’d received from the surgeon’s office.”He will now be seeking approval from his home medical community on a plan to organize meetings and collect contact information for those willing to share their experiences.Advertisement Those contacts would then go to local doctors who can pass them onto patients who are scheduled to face open heart surgery. For more information you can reach Bruce at 250-264-8888, or email him at [email protected]