State Court discussion continues over online access to millions of pages of court records

Local News

Almost exactly a year ago, for about a week-long period, North Dakotans had unrestricted access to court documents online.

When you searched a name or case number, clickable links briefly appeared next to the lists of documents that you have always had to request from the court. That ability was swiftly taken away after privacy concerns piled up over unredacted information, including victim information and even social security numbers.

At the time, Chief Justice Jon Jensen told KX News that the goal is to bring this feature back up eventually, once documents comply with a 2009 court rule requiring certain information to be redacted.

The trouble with this goal, according to State Court Administrator Sally Holewa, is the court processes 225,000 new pages of court documents every month. That’s 2.7 million each year.

She says the matter was referred to the Court Services Administration Committee, made up of several judges, clerks of courts, attorneys, two lawmakers and a media lobbyist that have been discussing it since August after a pandemic delay.

“It’s fair to say the members are very divided about how to move forward. The Chief hasn’t given them a deadline for a recommendation,” Holewa said.

“…We want to remove as many artificial barriers as we can. As you know, there’s a difference between having something available to the public and publishing something.”

Prior to the pandemic, the court charged a fee for requesting documents. We asked if this revenue is part of the consideration. Holewa said no, adding, it’s a minimal fee that goes back to the counties.

The committee is also considering keeping this service free.

She says right now, the decision is completely up in the air. The ultimate authority rests with the Chief Justice.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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