INTERNET ACCESS LAW AND THE CLERK'S OFFICE


Florida law requires clerks' offices statewide to provide access to the records they have on file. Due to changing technology, these records have become more accessible than ever. The Leon County Clerk and Compltroller's Office provides access to these records in its office and over the Internet, not only as a public service, but also for the following reasons:

1. Article I, Section 24, of the Florida Constitution states that: "Every person has the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any ...officer...except with respect to records exempted...."

2. Section 28.2221, Florida Statutes, provides: "The Legislature finds that a proper and legitimate state purpose is served by providing the public with access to public records and information on the Internet and hereby determines that [this]...fulfill[s] and further[s] an important state purpose."

3. Section 119.01(2)(e), Florida Statutes, says: "Providing access to public records by remote electronic means is an additional method of access that agencies should strive to provide to the extent feasible. If an agency provides access to public records by remote electronic means, such access should be provided in the most cost-effective and efficient manner available to the agency providing the information. "

4. Section 119.07, Florida Statutes, provides that "[e]very person who has custody of a public record shall permit the records to be inspected by any person desiring to do so...."

In 2002, the Florida Legislature amended Fla. Stat. 28.2221, which provided that clerks could not place an image or copy of a public or official record on the Internet if it is one of the following types: Military discharge; death certificate; or court files, records, or papers relating to matters or cases governed by the Rules of Family Law, Rules of Juvenile Procedures, or Probate Rules. These types of records on the Internet, prior to the effective date of the bill, could remain unless an affected party requests that the record be removed. These requests must be made in writing, and delivered by mail, fax, other electronic transmission, or in person, and must identify the document identification page number.

In November 2003, the Florida Supreme Court issued AOSC03-49, which ordered that, "effectively immediately and until further order of this Court, no court record as defined by Rule of Judicial Administration 2.051(b)(1)(a) shall be released in any electronic form by a Florida Clerk of Court except as provided herein." In February 2004, the Florida Supreme Court withdrew AOSC03-49, and issued AOSC04-04 which provided a number of exceptions to the previous "no release" restriction, except as otherwise controlled by statute or rule:

a. A court record that has become an "official record";

b. A court record in a case may be transmitted to a party of an attorney of record in that case;

c. A court record may be transmitted to a governmental agency or agent authorized by law, court rule, or court order to have access to that record;

d. A court record that has been solitarily and individually requested, provided it has been manually inspected by Clerks and no confidential or exempt information is released;

e. A court record in a case that the chief judge of the jurisdiction has designated to be of significant public interest, provided it has been manually inspected by Clerks and no confidential or exempt information is released;

f. Progress dockets limited to - case numbers and case type identification; party names, addresses, and dates of birth; names and addresses of counsel; lists or indices of any judgments, orders, pleadings, motions, notice, or other documents in the court file; court events, clerk actions, and case dispositions, provided no confidential or exempt information is released;

g. Schedules and court calendars;

h. Court records regarding traffic cases;

i. Appellate court briefs, orders, and opinions;

j. Court records that have been inspected by Clerks may be viewed via a public view terminal within an office of a clerk of court, provided no confidential or exempt information may be viewed.

Concerning exception "d" above, the Florida Supreme Court stated in footnote 3:

This provision permits a clerk of court to respond via electronic mail to an individual and specific request for a record and is designed to facilitate access to a document by persons interested in specific litigation. Because this provision requires that each document be manually inspected by a qualified person employed by the clerk of court to assure that no information which is confidential or exempt is released, the use of automated programs in lieu of manual inspection is not permitted. The exception does not permit electronic transmittal of documents requested in large quantity, or permit the requested record to be supplied to anyone other than the requestor.

In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court issued AOSC06-21, an interim policy that allowed extensive docket information to be released electronically, as well as all final orders and judgments, as long as no confidential information was released. First, it said that clerks could release the following records electronically if the information released is not confidential per federal or state law, court rule or court order:

a. Progress dockets limited to - case numbers and case type; party name, race, gender and year of birth; names and addresses of counsel; lists or indices of any judgments, orders, pleadings, motions, notice, or other documents in the court file; court events, clerk actions, and case dispositions; name and date of birth and death of deceased in probate cases, address of attorney of record or self-represented party in a probate case;

b. Court records that are Official Records;

c. Court schedules and calendars;

d. Traffic court records;

e. All appellate court filings, including motions, briefs, orders, and opinions;

Second, the 2006 order said the following records could be made available electronically if the clerk manually inspects the records and no confidential information is released:

a. Chief judge directs the electronic release of records in a case of significant public interest;

b. Records to a party, attorney of record in a case, or an attorney expressly authorized by a party in the case to receive the records;

c. Records individually and specifically requested;

d. Records to a governmental agent or agency;

e. Civil cases in which a state agency defined in FS 119.011(2) is a party, except court files sealed by statute, court rule, or court order, which require a specific order from the court unsealing the file

f. Pleadings, proofs of service, motions and orders in actions affecting the title to real property or tenancies to real property, including foreclosures of mortgages, ejectments, actions to clear title, specific performance, residential and non-residential evictions, forcible entry and detainers, lien contest actions, partition actions, and actions in which a lis pendens has been filed;

g. Pleadings, proofs of service, motions and order in actions for declaratory judgments to establish foreign decrees as Florida judgments;

h. Injunctions affecting real property, excluding domestic violence injunctions, and order denying or dismissing an injunction affecting real property.

Footnote 3 from the 2004 order was not carried forward to the 2006 and subsequent orders.

In 2007, the Florida Supreme Court issued AOSC07-49, which affirmed the information permitted in AOSC06-21, but clarified that it:

a. Did not apply to records under the control of court administration;

b. Limited application of the provision that addressed "traffic court records" to civil traffic infraction case records;

c. Disallowed the electronic release of images of traffic citations;

d. Permitted the electronic release of the full date of birth of defendants in criminal cases;

e. Permitted clerks to provide attorneys remote electronic access to records in cases in which the entire court file is not confidential.

Since 2007, the Florida Supreme Court has issued a number of affecting court records, including those provided electronically. These include:

a. SC06-2040, which amended Rule 2.430 to create a comprehensive judicial branch records management and retention program. See also AOSC08-5.

b. AOSC09-30, which provided statewide standards for electronic access to the courts.

c. AOSC10-17, which provided standards for electronic recordkeeping systems.

d. A number of orders that permits various clerks statewide to accept and use electronic records(efiling).

Florida's constitution and statutes are found here - http://www.flsenate.gov/Statutes/index.cfm?Tab=statutes&submenu=-1

FSC administrative orders (numbers starting with "AO") are found here - http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/clerk/adminorders/index.shtml

FSC decisions/opinions (numbers starting with "SC") are found here - http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/opinions.shtml

Orders approving electronic filing (numbers start with "AO") are found here - http://www.flcourts.org/gen_public/technology/reference.shtml