RULE 41. ACCESS TO COURT RECORDS
Section 1. Purpose.
The purpose of this rule is to provide a comprehensive framework for public access to court records. Every member of the public will have access to court records as provided in this rule.
Section 2. Definitions.
(a) "Court record," regardless of the form, includes:
(1) any document, information, or other thing that is collected, received, or maintained by court personnel in connection with a judicial proceeding;
(2) any index, calendar, docket, register of actions, official record of the proceedings, order, decree, judgment, minute, and any information in a case management system created by or prepared by court personnel that is related to a judicial proceeding; and
(3) information maintained by court personnel pertaining to the administration of the court or clerk of court office and not associated with any particular case.
(b) "Court record" does not include:
(1) other records maintained by the public official who also serves as clerk of court;
(2) information gathered, maintained or stored by a governmental agency or other entity to which the court has access but which is not part of the court record as defined in this rule;
(3) a record that has been disposed of under court records management rules.
(c) "Public access" means that the public may inspect and obtain a copy of the information in a court record.
(d) "Remote access" means the ability to electronically search, inspect, or copy information in a court record without the need to physically visit the court facility where the court record is maintained.
(e) "Bulk distribution" means the distribution of all, or a significant subset, of the information in court records, as is and without modification or compilation.
(f) "Compiled information" means information that is derived from the selection, aggregation or reformulation by the court of some of the information from more than one individual court record.
(g) "Electronic form" means information in a court record that exists as:
(1) electronic representations of text or graphic documents;
(2) an electronic image, including a video image, of a document, exhibit or other thing;
(3) data in the fields or files of an electronic database; or
(4) an audio or video recording, analog or digital, of an event or notes in an electronic file from which a transcript of an event can be prepared.
Section 3. General Access Rule.
(a) Public Access to Court Records.
(1) Information in the court record is accessible to the public except as prohibited by this rule.
(2) There must be a publicly accessible indication of the existence of information in a court record to which access has been prohibited, which indication may not disclose the nature of the information protected.
(3) A court may not adopt a more restrictive access policy or otherwise restrict access beyond that provided for in this rule, nor provide greater access than that provided for in this rule.
(b) When Court Records May Be Accessed.
(1) Court records in a court facility must be available for public access during normal business hours. Court records in electronic form to which the court allows remote access will be available for access subject to technical systems availability.
(2) Upon receiving a request for access to information, the clerk of court shall respond as promptly as practical. If a request cannot be granted promptly, or at all, an explanation must be given to the requestor as soon as possible. The requesting person has a right to at least the following information: the nature of any problem preventing access and the specific statute, federal law, or court or administrative rule that is the basis of the denial. The explanation must be in writing if desired by the requestor.
(c) Fees for Access. The court may charge a fee for access to court records in electronic form, for remote access, for bulk distribution or for compiled information. To the extent that public access to information is provided exclusively through a vendor, the court will ensure that any fee imposed by the vendor for the cost of providing access is reasonable.
Section 4. Methods of Access to Court Records.
(a) Access to Court Records at Court Facility.
(1) Request for Access. Any person desiring to inspect, examine, or copy a court record shall make an oral or written request to the clerk of court. If the request is oral, the clerk may require a written request if the clerk determines that the disclosure of the record is questionable or the request is so involved or lengthy as to need further definition. The request must clearly identify the record requested so that the clerk can locate the record without doing extensive research. Continuing requests for a document not yet in existence may not be considered.
(2) Response to Request. The clerk of court is not required to allow access to more than ten files per day per requestor but may do so in the exercise of the clerk's discretion if the access will not disrupt the clerk's primary function. If the request for access and inspection is granted, the clerk may set reasonable time and manner of inspection requirements that ensure timely access while protecting the integrity of the records and preserving the affected office from undue disruption. The inspection area must be within full view of court personnel whenever possible. The person inspecting the records may not leave the court facility until the records are returned and examined for completeness.
(3) Response by Court. If a clerk of court determines there is a question about whether a record may be disclosed, or if a written request is made under Section 6(b) for a ruling by the court after the clerk denies or grants an access request, the clerk shall refer the request to the court for determination. The court must use the standards listed in Section 6 to determine whether to grant or deny the access request.
(b) Remote Access to Court Records. The following information in court records must be made remotely accessible to the public if it exists in electronic form, unless public access is restricted under this rule:
(1) litigant/party indexes to cases filed with the court;
(2) listings of new case filings, including the names of the parties;
(3) register of actions showing what documents have been filed in a case;
(4) calendars or dockets of court proceedings, including the case number and caption, date and time of hearing, and location of hearing;
(5) judgments, orders, or decrees in a case and liens affecting title to real property;
(6) reports specifically developed for electronic transfer approved by the state court administrator and reports generated in the normal course of business, if the report does not contain information that is excluded from public access under Section 5 or 6.
(c) Requests for Bulk Distribution of Court Records.
(1) Bulk distribution of information in the court record is permitted for court records that are publicly accessible under Section 3(a).
(2) A request for bulk distribution of information not publicly accessible can be made to the court for scholarly, journalistic, political, governmental, research, evaluation or statistical purposes where the identification of specific individuals is ancillary to the purpose of the inquiry. Prior to the release of information under this subsection the requestor must comply with the provisions of Section 6.
(3) A court may allow a party to a bulk distribution agreement access to birth date, street address, and social security number information if the party certifies that it will use the data for legitimate purposes as permitted by law.
(d) Access to Compiled Information From Court Records.
(1) Any member of the public may request compiled information that consists solely of information that is publicly accessible and that is not already in an existing report. The court may compile and provide the information if it determines, in its discretion, that providing the information meets criteria established by the court, that the resources are available to compile the information and that it is an appropriate use of public resources. The court may delegate to its staff or the clerk of court the authority to make the initial determination to provide compiled information.
(2) Requesting compiled restricted information.
(A) Compiled information that includes information to which public access has been restricted may be requested by any member of the public only for scholarly, journalistic, political, governmental, research, evaluation, or statistical purposes.
(B) The request must:
(i) identify what information is sought,
(ii) describe the purpose for requesting the information and explain how the information will benefit the public interest or public education, and
(iii) explain provisions for the secure protection of any information requested to which public access is restricted or prohibited.
(C) The court may grant the request and compile the information if it determines that doing so meets criteria established by the court and is consistent with the purposes of this rule, the resources are available to compile the information, and that it is an appropriate use of public resources.
(D) If the request is granted, the court may require the requestor to sign a declaration that:
(i) the data will not be sold or otherwise distributed, directly or indirectly, to third parties, except for journalistic purposes,
(ii) the information will not be used directly or indirectly to sell a product or service to an individual or the general public, except for journalistic purposes, and
(iii) there will be no copying or duplication of information or data provided other than for the stated scholarly, journalistic, political, governmental, research, evaluation, or statistical purpose.
The court may make such additional orders as may be needed to protect information to which access has been restricted or prohibited.
Section 5. Court Records Excluded From Public Access.
The following information in a court record is not accessible to the public:
(a) Information that is not accessible to the public under federal law.
(b) Information that is not accessible to the public under state law, court rule, case law or court order, including:
(1) affidavits or sworn testimony and records of proceedings in support of the issuance of a search or arrest warrant pending the return of the warrant;
(2) information in a complaint and associated arrest or search warrant to the extent confidentiality is ordered by the court under Section 29-05-32 or 29-29-22, NDCC;
(3) documents filed with the court for in-camera examination pending disclosure;
(4) domestic violence protection order files and disorderly conduct restraining order files when the restraining order is sought due to domestic violence, except for orders of the court;
(5) names of qualified or summoned jurors and contents of jury qualification forms if disclosure is prohibited or restricted by order of the court;
(6) sexually explicit material or property that is evidence in a case;
(7) records of deferred impositions of sentences resulting in dismissal;
(8) personal information:
except for the last four digits, social security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, and financial account numbers,
except for the year, birth dates,
except for the initials, the name of an individual known to be a minor, and,
in criminal cases, the home street address of
an individual a
witness or juror;
(9) judge and court personnel work material, including personal calendars, communications from law clerks, bench memoranda, notes, work in progress, draft documents and non-finalized documents.
(c) This rule does not preclude access to court records by the following persons in the following situations:
(1) federal, state, and local officials, or their agents, examining a court record in the exercise of their official duties and powers.
(2) parties to an action and their attorneys examining the court file of the action, unless restricted by order of the court, but parties and attorneys may not access judge and court personnel work material in the court file.
(d) A member of the public may request the court to allow access to information excluded under Section 5 as provided in Section 6.
Section 6. Requests to Prohibit Public Access to Information in Court Records or to Obtain Access to Restricted Information.
(a) Request to Prohibit Access.
(1) A request to prohibit public access to information in a court record may be made by any party to a case, by the individual about whom information is present in the court record, or on the court's own motion on notice as provided in Section 6(c).
(2) The court must decide whether there are sufficient grounds to overcome the presumption of openness of court records and prohibit access according to applicable constitutional, statutory and case law.
(3) In deciding whether to prohibit access the court must consider that the presumption of openness may only be overcome by an overriding interest. The court must articulate this interest along with specific findings sufficient to allow a reviewing court to determine whether the closure order was properly entered.
(4) The closure of the records must be no broader than necessary to protect the articulated interest. The court must consider reasonable alternatives to closure, such as redaction or partial closure, and the court must make findings adequate to support the closure. The court may not deny access only on the ground that the record contains confidential or closed information.
(5) In restricting access the court must use the least restrictive means that will achieve the purposes of this rule and the needs of the requestor.
(b) Request to Obtain Access.
(1) A request to obtain access to information in a court record to which access is prohibited under Section 4(a), 5 or 6(a) may be made by any member of the public or on the court's own motion on notice as provided in Section 6(b).
(2) In deciding whether to allow access, the court must consider whether there are sufficient grounds to overcome the presumption of openness of court records and continue to prohibit access under applicable constitutional, statutory and case law. In deciding this the court must consider the standards outlined in Section 6(a).
(c) Form of Request.
(1) The request must be made by a written motion to the court.
(2) The requestor shall give notice to all parties in the case.
(3) The court may require notice to be given by the requestor or another party to any individuals or entities identified in the information that is the subject of the request. When the request is for access to information to which access was previously prohibited under Section 6(a), the court must provide notice to the individual or entity that requested that access be prohibited.
Section 7. Obligations Of Vendors Providing Information Technology Support To A Court To Maintain Court Records.
(a) If the court contracts with a vendor to provide information technology support to gather, store, or make accessible court records, the contract will require the vendor to comply with the intent and provisions of this rule. For purposes of this section, "vendor" includes a state, county or local governmental agency that provides information technology services to a court.
(b) By contract the vendor will be required to notify the court of any requests for compiled information or bulk distribution of information, including the vendor's requests for such information for its own use.
Adopted on an emergency basis effective October 1, 1996; Amended and adopted effective November 12, 1997; March 1, 2001; July 1, 2006 March 1, 2009; _____________; Appendix amended effective August 1, 2001, to reflect the name change of State Bar Board to State Board of Law Examiners.
HISTORY: Joint Procedure Committee Minutes of __________________; January
2008, pages 9-12; October 11-12, 2007, pages 28-30; April 26-27, 2007, page 31;
September 22-23, 2005, pages 6-16; April 28-29, 2005, pages 22-25; Court Technology
Committee Minutes of June 18, 2004; March 19, 2004; September 12, 2003; Conference
of Chief Justices/Conference of State Court Administrators: Guidelines for Public Access
to Court Records.