Closing Court Records

Millions of pages of documents are filed with Florida courts every year. Often sensitive information sometimes makes it into court files, making it a public record. A committee is now trying to decide how much access you the public should have and whether it should be available on the internet.

Sensitive or embarrassing documents end up in court files everyday. This committee is trying to decide if average citizens should have to go to the court house to see those records, or if most court filings should be available online or not available at all.

Chairman Jon Mills says it is a delicate balance.

“We care about disclosing the innocent, the name of an innocent child that has been a subject of child abuse. Yes we do, at the same time is it centrally important to make sure that the public has access to issues that deal with the integrity of the court system and the out of state officials they do.”

The media argues a public record is public and some shouldn’t be available only in paper form at the court house door.

Sarasota Herald Tribune editor Mike Connolly told the panel important stories will go uncovered if court records aren’t available online.

"Many of the best stories about treatment of vulnerable people start with private citizens digging into a case. For most private citizens seeking paper records is intimidating."

The issue isn’t simple. Some judges on the panel think some records are just too sensitive to be available to the whole world on the web.

Palm Beach Chief Judge Edward Fine is one of those with serious questions.

"In a divorce case a third party gets named as being part of love triangle. Then the case gets settled and it never gets ironed out and it’s just sitting there in the court records."

The panel will make recommendations what should and shouldn’t be public by next summer. Whatever the panel decides, it will only be a recommendation. It will be up to the State Supreme Court to make a final ruling.