State Rep. Aaron Stiles is on the right track with his effort to ensure that more, not fewer, court records are made available to the public. Perhaps Stiles will take some of that same zealousness for openness to his colleagues at the Capitol.
Stiles, R-Norman, told a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday that he wants to curb the instances where judges go too far in sealing court records in traditionally open cases. Judges may do so if they determine it's in the best interest of justice.
Stiles recently told judges he wants to “eliminate the ‘interest of justice' standard and to enumerate the specific situations when records can be sealed so we have a clear and equal rule for all citizens.”
That enumeration could be a problem, as some judges explained to Stiles. One district judge, who gave Stiles examples in which he felt colleagues had closed records wrongfully, also warned that trying to create a list of what should or shouldn't be available is a headache waiting to happen.
Stiles said he knows of cases where attorneys have persuaded judges to seal their divorce records. Such broad interpretations of “interest of justice” are questionable at best, and Stiles is to be commended for trying to improve the system on behalf of the public. The question is whether legislation can be crafted to further that cause.
On the other hand, legislation has been attempted that would make legislators subject to the state Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act, just like public officials across the state. Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, has tried to get Oklahoma off the short list of states whose legislatures are exempt from those rules.
Here's hoping that push continues. Whether at the courthouse or at the Capitol, the more openness, the better.