Expanded online access to district court information is now available on the North Dakota Supreme Court website through a new search page.
Users may now search for district court case information by name, citation number, or case number. Users may also access district court calendars for all of North Dakota's 53 counties.
"I'm excited about this new function," said State Court Administrator Sally Holewa. "I think it is a giant step forward to the court, and I hope it is only the first step to even better service for the public."
Holewa said the goal of the new search function is to "allow individuals to find the data they need at their own convenience." She said that the "most useful feature" may be the calendar access, which gives court users the ability to check court dates and times without having to call the court.
"We don't live in a 9-to-5 world anymore. The courts shouldn't be functioning as if we do," said Holewa. "The post-baby boomer generation goes to the internet first for information and expects to find it. I think we have an obligation to meet those expectations to the extent that it is feasible."
Court technology director Kurt Schmidt said that the search function allows users to access "non-confidential cases and case information that is open to the public as public record."
Schmidt said that the technology department began working on database design for the site in 2006 and that work on putting the searchable site online began in earnest in January 2007.
Development of the new district court search and calendar page was prompted by the implementation of changes to N.D.Sup.Ct.Admin.R. 41 on public access to court records, said Holewa. The rule requires the court system to allow remote access to certain court records.
Also available under the search funcition is Municipal Court information for Bismarck, Mandan, Dickinson, Williston, Minot, Devils Lake, Jamestown, Wahpeton, and West Fargo.
Confidential cases and information are not available under the search function.
"From my perspective, the change to AR 41 was very welcome," Holewa said. "The concept of public access is essentially meaningless, especially in a rural state, if records are being held remotely."
Under Admin. Rule 41, several types of court information need to be made available through remote access: indexes to cases filed with the court; listings of new case filings; register of actions showing what documents have been filed in a case; calendars or dockets of court proceedings, judgments, orders, or decrees; and reports specifically developed for electronic transfer.
The changes to Admin. Rule 41 took effect July 1, 2006 and were intended "to provide a comprehensive framework for public access to court records."
Underlying the rule is the presumption that court records will be open to the public. The rule states that, "[i]nformation in the court record is accessible to the public except as prohibited by this rule."
At the same time, however, the rule is designed to protect citizen privacy. The rule excludes some information from public access, including personal information belonging to court users, such as social security numbers and financial account numbers. In general, information that is not accessible to the public under state or federal law is not accessible under the rule.
The process of amending Rule 41 began in July 2003 when the North Dakota Supreme Court instructed the Court Technology Committee to establish a committee to study issues surrounding access to electronic records.
An expanded committee composed of members of the Court Technology Committee and representatives from the legal community was formed to discuss amendment of Rule 41. As a starting point for its amendment discussions, the expanded committee referred to "Public Access to Court Records: Guidelines for Policy Development by State Courts," which was produced by the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators.
After a series of meetings, the expanded committee reported back to the Supreme Court in August 2004, providing the court with a thoroughly revised version of Rule 41.
The court then sought comments on the amended rule. After reviewing the comments, the court referred the amended rule to the Joint Procedure Committee for additional review and recommendation. In October 2005, the committee suggested additional amendments to the rule.
The court sought comments on the additional amendments and in January 2006, after considering the comments, the court approved amendments to Rule 41.
May 8, 2007