PA Supreme Court is­sues new pub­lic records pol­icy

The Boyertown Area Times - - LOCAL NEWS -

The Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court has adopted a new pub­lic ac­cess pol­icy that, for the first time, es­tab­lishes uni­form stan­dards for all ap­pel­late and trial courts in re­spond­ing to re­quests from the pub­lic for case records. The pol­icy in­cludes how re­quests for ac­cess are to be han­dled, es­tab­lishes a limit on copy­ing fees and de­lin­eates what in­for­ma­tion will be safe­guarded.

The pol­icy was ini­tially pub­lished in draft form for pub­lic com­ment in 2015, and re­sponses were con­sid­ered and changes were made. The new pol­icy goes into ef­fect in Jan­uary 2018, al­though courts, at­tor­neys and par­ties may be­gin pre­par­ing for the tran­si­tion now.

“This new pol­icy sim­pli­fies and uni­fies the process by which the pub­lic may ac­cess case records in trial and ap­pel­late courts statewide, but it does so while safe­guard­ing the pri­vacy and safety of cit­i­zens,” said Chief Jus­tice of Penn­syl­va­nia Thomas G. Say­lor. “It re­flects the ju­di­ciary’s long com­mit­ment to mak­ing court records open and ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic.

“The pol­icy is built upon the prin­ci­ple that court records are open for in­spec­tion by the pub­lic while main­tain­ing ap­pro­pri­ate bound­aries for the pro­tec­tion of in­di­vid­u­als who come into the court sys­tem. In the in­ter­net age, courts are mind­ful of the dam­age that can be caused to cit­i­zens by dis­sem­i­na­tion of highly sen­si­tive, pri­vate in­for­ma­tion that may be found in a court file.”

The pol­icy pro­vides four dif­fer­ent ways of safe­guard­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion:

1. Cer­tain types of in­for­ma­tion can­not be in­cluded in court fil­ings, but in­stead must be iden­ti­fied to the court on a separate form, called a Con­fi­den­tial In­for­ma­tion Form (CIF), and at­tached to the fil­ing.

• As an al­ter­na­tive to fil­ing that CIF, a court may re­quire a party to file two ver­sions of ev­ery doc­u­ment with the court – both a redacted (with­out sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion) and unredacted ver­sion (which in­cludes sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion).

• Only the redacted ver­sion will be avail­able to the pub­lic.

• So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers are an ex­am­ple of in­for­ma­tion which falls un­der this sec­tion of the pol­icy.

2. Cer­tain doc­u­ments must be filed with a Con­fi­den­tial Doc­u­ment Form (CDF).

• Any doc­u­ment filed with this form will not be ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic; how­ever, the CDF or a copy of it will be ac­ces­si­ble.

• Fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments are ex­am­ples of doc­u­ments fall­ing un­der this sec­tion of the pol­icy.

3. Cer­tain cases - are not ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic be­cause there is no method to en­sure that all of the sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion con­tained in the case file can be redacted be­fore per­mit­ting pub­lic ac­cess.

• This pol­icy adds two types of cases to those al­ready pro­tected un­der ex­ist­ing le­gal author­ity: cases per­tain­ing to birth records and cases filed in in­ca­pac­ity pro­ceed­ings. How­ever, for these cases, the docket and court or­ders and opin­ions or fi­nal de­crees will re­main avail­able for pub­lic in­spec­tion.

4. Cer­tain in­for­ma­tion is only ac­ces­si­ble at the court­house and not on­line

• Fam­ily court records, ex­cept for dock­ets, court or­ders and opin­ions, are an ex­am­ple of in­for­ma­tion which falls un­der this sec­tion of the pol­icy.

Par­ties and their at­tor­neys will be re­spon­si­ble for safe­guard­ing in­for­ma­tion in the doc­u­ments they file with the courts.

Courts may im­pose ap­pro­pri­ate sanc­tions upon a party or at­tor­ney for fail­ing to com­ply with the new pol­icy.

The pol­icy is the re­sult of a multi-year re­view by a group led by co-chairs Com­mon­wealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jube­lirer and Mont­gomery County Court of Com­mon Pleas Judge Lois E. Mur­phy, who were the origi-

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