The public may soon be able to look at court records online anywhere it wants without having to pay $1 per page.
Northeast Florida’s clerks of court applied last month to be allowed to post court records online.
Ten years ago, the Florida Supreme Court banned clerks of court from posting those records online until technology advanced enough to allow records to be more easily redacted. The court decided in March that time had come.
That means anyone can look at the arrest reports, foreclosure proceedings, divorce records and lawsuits that are filed daily in the courts.
That doesn’t mean anyone can look at juvenile or adoption or other sealed records.
Whereas before a person had to trudge down to the Duval County courthouse and sit at one of the clerk’s office computers to look at records and pay $1 per page to print the records, those same records will be available from any computer anywhere.
Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns and Putnam counties were among the 56 of the state 67 counties that sent applications to the state in July. Duval’s was the last application received, two days after the deadline. Christina Blakeslee of the Office of State Courts Administrator said Duval County’s clerk of courts would not be punished for sending in the application late.
Duval County and others around the state already allow attorneys to access records online even on cases they are not working on. For those that allowed access to attorneys before, they are required to either offer the same level of access to the public or not offer any online access to anyone.
Now the state has to go through all of the applications and begin approving counties.
“I don’t anticipate these approvals to be very fast,” Blakeslee said. “I would think within the next six months we’ll have approvals out there. … Electronic access is the way things are moving.”
It took the state Supreme Court 10 years to lift its ban on posting public records because the court was weighing the importance of keeping sensitive records confidential and making public records more available.
“I do feel like transparency and prompt access have taken a backseat to concerns about confidentiality,” attorney Carol Jean LoCicero said. She represented about 60 newspapers and TV stations in the Supreme Court case asking that records be made public for everyone. “It would’ve been great if this had happened sooner, but I guess better late than never.”
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said she hopes soon all 67 counties will offer public access to records.
“Say my father lived in Duval County and was involved in some kind of court-based event, say he owned a property there and he had some claim filed against him, do I have to drive to Duval County from Leon county to see those records? Why couldn’t I see those records online?”
Duval County Clerk Ronnie Fussell said he’s going to have his office work as fast as it can to make records available once the office has approval from the state.
Judge Lisa Munyon of Orlando served as the chairwoman of the Florida Courts Technology Commission. She said she’s not sure that giving more access to records will greatly affect the court system.
“It might be easier for [people] to see documents in a file, but I don’t know that it will have a substantial affect on their access to the court system,” she said. “I really think it remains to be seen whether it has any earth-shattering impact.”
Fussell said adding online access could cost $300,000 to $500,000, but he said he really doesn’t know because he hasn’t made the calculations yet.
“We want to give you the records that you deserve because that’s what your constitution calls for,” he said.