TO: Joint Procedure Committee
FROM: Mike Hagburg
DATE: April 9, 2015
RE: Rule 41, N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R., Access to Court Records
The Court has requested that the committee look into an issue raised by the clerks of court. As explained in the attached excerpt from the Administrative Council's September 2014 meeting, the clerks had questions about what to do about requests for address and other contact information contained in court records. In general, they wanted to know (1) whether the contact information they collect and compile on the "parties tab" in Odyssey is subject to public access, and (2) whether they must conduct unlimited searches of court documents for contact information when this is requested by the public.
After a discussion, the Council decided to refer the matter to this committee for a discussion of whether Rule 41 should be amended to protect contact information gathered by the courts, particularly for domestic abuse and crime victims. The Council also would like the committee to discuss whether there should be limits on the amount of time a clerk needs to devote to searching a record to find information requested by the public.
The Court has the authority to make its own rules on public access to court records. Working with the state court administrator, staff has developed proposed amendments to Rule 41 intended to respond to the issues raised by the clerks. These amendments are attached. While the amendments address the clerks' concerns, they would reduce the openness of the state's court records so they should be seen as a starting point for discussion.
The proposed amendments would change Section 3 of the rule to continue to allow access to court records but to eliminate the focus on "information" in a court record and to specifically state that the "clerk of court is not required to search within a court record for specific information that may be sought by a requestor." This change is intended to respond to the clerks' request that limits be placed on the searching of court records by the clerk it is not intended the public's ability to access and search court records.
The proposed amendments would also change Section 5 to restrict public access to "party, witness and crime victim contact information gathered and recorded by the court for administrative purposes, including telephone numbers and e-mail, street and postal addresses." This changes in intended to respond to the clerks' concerns about giving "parties tab" contact information for people involved in court cases to the public.