We Want Your Feedback: Online Access to Court Records Rules and Experiences

As you have likely heard by now, the SJC approved and released Trial Court Rule XIV regarding online access to court records.  This follows the well-documented  recent challenges (see: Courts Cut Online Access to Criminal Cases, Trial Court Fails Transparency Test in Attorney Portal Lockdown, To Block Data Harvesting, Trial Courts Lock Down Attorney Web Portal) faced by the the Trial Court after they detected instances of unauthorized “data harvesting.”  The BBA has long been a part of this discussion, including, most recently, through the submission of comments from a working group and various practice-area Sections to the Trial Court’s Public Access to Court Records Committee regarding forthcoming rules on this issue.

We are pleased to report that the Trial Court has been responsive to the concerns expressed in the articles linked-to above and to our comments, and note their open communication regarding the process as exemplified by a recent letter to bar leaders.

Some of the major points raised by our comments are included in the final rule, including:

  • The Committee’s recommendation to create a Standing Committee to regularly review the rules in light of recent developments and changes in technology and the addition of language to Rule 5(a)(1)(ii) specifically aimed at these sorts of updates, speaks directly to the second consensus point of the BBA’s Working Group (BBA Comments page 1) recommending periodic review of the database and technology.
  • Editing Rule 1(d) to note that all courts will maintain a public computer kiosk at the Clerk’s office is responsive to our note on inconsistencies in the proposed rules on this point (see BBA Comments p. 12).
  • Revising Rule 2(j)(1) to remove the outright ban on flash photography as recommended on page 8 of the BBA’s Comments given the prevalence and convenience of cell-phone scanners which may require a small an unobtrusive flash.
  • Adding certain case records to the list of protected documents that cannot be available online, including mental health reports and certain civil commitment and harassment and domestic abuse records (see BBA Comments p. 11).
  • Updating Rule 6 to clarify the process for court users to correct clerical errors in electronic dockets using language recommended on page 10 of our Comments.

As we continue this discussion with the courts, your feedback is essential.  Please send us your comments regarding online access to court records.  We hope to share many of them with the courts as we work with them on this complex issue.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association