Tuesday, March 2, 2004
Rule Allows Internet Posting of Criminal Court Documents
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
The Judicial Council of California has narrowly adopted an interim rule permitting court records in high-profile criminal cases to be posted on the Internet.
The council voted 10-9 Friday in San Francisco to adopt the rule, with Chief Justice Ronald M. George stepping in to break a tie. The rule allows presiding judges to permit “remote electronic access” to court records if the number of requests for the documents is “extraordinarily high” and responding to the requests would “significantly burden” court operations.
Rule 2073.5 of the California Rules of Court is effective immediately, but will last only until the end of this year unless the council adopts a permanent rule or extends it. In a statement, the council said it is inviting public comment on the rule and will revisit the issue at a future meeting.
The rule requires that nine categories of personal identifying information be redacted from the posted documents “to the extent feasible.” It also requires presiding judges to consider “the privacy of parties, victims, and witnesses” before permitting the material to be made available electronically.
The rules says parties and the public must be notified five days before posting is authorized, but specifies that the public notice may be provided by posting it on the court’s Web site. No hearings are required, the rule says.
A court order permitting electronic access must designate the records that will be available and specify the categories of information to be redacted, the rule says, but it states that the court “is not required to make findings of fact.”
The court must post the order on its Web site and send a copy to the Judicial Council, the rule provides. It permits a court’s presiding judge to assign another judge to make orders under the rule.
The categories of information to be redacted under the rule are listed as: “driver license numbers; dates of birth; social security numbers; Criminal Identification and Information and National Crime Information numbers; addresses, and phone numbers of parties, victims, witnesses, and court personnel; medical and psychiatric information; financial information; account numbers; and other personal identifying information.”
Neither the names of jurors nor identifying information about them may be made available electronically, the rule says.
Under a permanent rule adopted in 2001, trial courts were already permitted to provide Internet access to most civil court records. That rule exempted records in criminal cases due to privacy concerns, the council’s statement noted.
Los Angeles Superior Court Public Information Officer Alan Parachini said yesterday the local court had pressed for an interim rule permitting the posting of criminal case documents in anticipation of the beginning of the Robert Blake murder trial.
“We were furiously pursuing this,” he said.
Now that the trial date in that case has been put off, “the time pressure of that is relaxed,” Parachini said.
He noted that Web sites exist to facilitate media coverage of the Kobe Bryant prosecution in Colorado, the Scott Peterson murder trial in San Mateo County, and the Michael Jackson case in Santa Barbara County. But none of those sites is actually operated by the court involved, he pointed out.
Parachini said the court hopes to have a “first iteration” of a Web site for high-profile case documents “on line in two or three months.”
The Los Angeles court has a “regular docket of high profile cases,” Parachini observed, adding that he expects “as many as probably a dozen” cases will eventually have documents accessible through a drop-down menu on the court’s Web site.
There “probably will be a fee structure” for accessing the documents similar to the fees currently charged for retrieving civil case materials, he said.
“We hope this becomes a tool for media that makes the media’s job easier, reduces the demands on us, and also does not disrupt criminal trial proceedings,” Parachini declared.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company