High court backs off secrecy rules

By John Greiner Modified: March 26, 2008 at 10:06 am •  Published: March 26, 2008
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In a decision hailed by advocates of open records, the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday rescinded its rules that would have restricted public access to court records on the Internet and in the courthouse.

The initial ruling made earlier this month was designed to address concerns about identity theft, but prompted heated criticism. Now the court is being praised for re-examining its initial position.

Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said, "The original order was too broad, and we applaud the withdrawal of the order, and we will serve on any task force designated to study this issue.”

Full access ‘vital,' minister says
A minister who oversees screening of potential adult leaders of children's programs also applauded the Supreme Court's decision Tuesday.

Personal identifying information is important for background checks, said the Rev. Mary Lue Eastmond, director of Christian Education for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church.

"Without those, you end up with a whole lot of people with a whole lot of ages that have the same name, and that isn't really helpful at all if you screen a person who would be sleeping in the cabin with your children for a week,” she said.

Eastmond said she oversees the screening process the Oklahoma United Methodist Church performs for adult leaders of children and youth at conference and district levels. It has a contract with a group to get criminal and occasionally other kinds of background checks, she said.

The rules prohibited placing personal information — including Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses — on the court's Web site and in documents for public viewing in courthouses around the state.

The court said the rules were an attempt to balance privacy rights of those who use Oklahoma's court system and others who access public court documents for information.

In an e-mail to The Oklahoman earlier this month, Eastmond said, "Criminal background checks including sex offender registries are a vital part of the screening we do to assure safety for children, youth and vulnerable adults involved or impacted by our ministries.