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Court limits access to public records

By John Greiner Modified: March 12, 2008 at 6:32 pm •  Published: March 12, 2008
Oklahomans' access to court records on the Internet will be limited by rules adopted Tuesday by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The court said individual pleadings and other recorded documents filed in state court actions shall not be publicly displayed on the Internet. People wanting to see this information can go to the courthouse and view it.

The court said it issued the rules in order to balance the rights of privacy of individuals who use Oklahoma's court system and public access to court documents. The rules affect operations of the state's district courts.

These rules regarding privacy and public access to court documents will be effective June 10.

The rules also say people filing cases should omit personal identifiers such as Social Security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, names of minor children, dates of birth, financial account numbers and home addresses.

Omitting these things from documents was called "outrageous overreaching” by Joey Senat, past president of FOI Oklahoma and an Oklahoma State University journalism professor specializing in freedom of information.

These are "life affecting decisions” which could affect things such as who you are going to marry, Senat said.

Dissenting opinion
Supreme Court justices Yvonne Kauger and James Edmondson concurred with limiting personal and private information from documents, but dissented in restricting public access to the court documents on the Internet.

Their dissent said the court's decision was made with input only from court clerks while others affected by the decision — attorneys, judges, the Legislature and the public — were not consulted.

"Courts have a responsibility to balance the risk of harm that may be rendered by the disclosure of sensitive information with the need for a fully open court record,” the dissenting opinion stated.

"I think the court and court clerks underestimated the popularity of access to those records. The public and all kinds of businesses and individuals are going to scream,” said Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association. Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling

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