BARTOW — Plans to make court records available online to the public have been delayed by at least three months.
Polk County Clerk of Courts Stacy Butterfield said residents won’t be able to access court records until mid-November. She had previously said the the new system would be available Aug. 1.
Butterfield said it took longer than expected to develop the program needed to make online records accessible.
“We just didn’t have it ready,” Butterfield said. “We hired additional resources to fast-track it.” Creating the program and following a security matrix that provides levels of access to lawyers rather than residents was elaborate, she said.
A pilot program will be implemented during the next 2½ months before allowing access to the public.
Butterfield said the Florida Courts Technology Commission has actually given Polk County until March 2016 to make the records available to the public. But she’s confident the public will have access well before then.
“I fully anticipate at the end of the 90-day pilot we will have it available to everyone,” Butterfield said.
Carol Locicero, a lawyer representing different media outlets including The Ledger, said it has taken entirely too long for some counties to open their online records to the public. She said there is a concern that residents do not have access to the online system although lawyers do. In the coming days, Locicero said, she plans to write a letter to the Florida Supreme Court objecting to a 90-day extension provided by a subcommittee of the technology commission to Brevard, Clay, Lake, Palm Beach, Holmes and Wakulla counties that would give those counties more time to create an online system for the public.
“This isn’t something they found out yesterday,” Locicero said. “They’ve known about this.”
In 2004, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that clerks could not post online records because Social Security numbers and other personal information could be made public. That’s made it difficult and inconvenient for residents who need records but work or live miles away from a clerk of courts office, or may not have a car.
But in 2007, the state Supreme Court allowed Manatee County to run a pilot program for the state until 2011. In 2014, the Supreme Court lifted the moratorium reporting in an administrative order that “the program was determined to have been successful in providing appropriate access to electronic court records while effectively protecting confidential information in an evaluation performed by the National Center for State Courts in 2011.”
Other counties have already started their online access for the public, including Miami-Dade, Alachua, Broward , Charlotte and Duval.
Currently, residents can drive to the courthouse in Bartow or offices in Lakeland or Winter Haven to obtain court records. It costs $1 a page for a copy of any records. There will be no cost to view or print records online.
Original article here.