Private Investigators In Virginia

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Access to Court Records

Posted by Bill on November 18, 2007

The Ohio Supreme Court announced on November 16, 2007, that it is accepting comments on several proposed amendments to the Court Rules addressing access to court records. (see http://tinyurl.com/2jto8j).  This is the first time the Ohio Supreme Court has considered public access to court records.  The rules proposes that court records are presumed open unless otherwise exempt or confidential by state law.  The rules would let the court allow limited access to records (seal the record); create a process to unseal a record–part or all of the record; and partial redaction or omission of personal information in the records.   

Ohio is not the first state to consider and draft rules to limit access to public court records.  In 2006 the Virginia Supreme Court’s Committee on Access to Court Records issued a draft report to revise court rules to provide  a balance between public access to Virginia court records and the privacy needs of some information in the records.  The Virginia Supreme Court committee proposed that certain personal data be redacted in all court filings, and that parties could seal records.  Personal information to be redacted would be (1) social security numbers, drivers license or military personnel numbers–include only last four digits if needed; (2) information regarding minor children; (3) dates of birth–only year included; and (4) financial information–only last four numbers of accounts.  Of course, some court records are already held confidential under numerous Virginia code sections–grand jury proceedings, juvenile records etc. 

To its credit, however, the Virginia Supreme Court committee emphasized that public access to court records is important in ensuring the integrity of the judicial process.  The committee pointed out that there are many court opinions (State and Federal) recognizing that public access to court records allows the public to monitor the conduct of judicial proceedings, providing an effective restraint on the possible abuse of judicial power.  The US Supreme Court has recognized the rights of the public to have access to court proceedings which “allows the citizenry to monitor the functioning of our courts, thereby insuring quality, honesty, and respect for our legal system.” 

While the Virginia Supreme Court proposed rule amendments are in draft, all of us must monitor the restrictions that may be applied to public access to court records.  Private investigators often need to search court records in relation to an investigation.  As stated in a previous post, there must be a way to identify the person in the court record.

Bill Lowrance

President PIAVA

president@piava.org

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2 Responses to “Access to Court Records”

  1. […] conducted a similar effort last year in proposing amended rules for accessing court records.  See Prior Post  The Virginia Supreme Court, as well as the Ohio Supreme Court, allows subjects of a case to […]

  2. […] initially wrote about this in a previous post last year Click Here.   While the Virginia Supreme Court did not act upon the first set of proposed rule changes for […]

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