I know that I frequently complain about the glacial pace at which Illinois courts are finally adopting the electronic filing concept. At least in this arena, however, there is some progress. For example, DuPage County has implemented a very efficient efiling system.
However, the flip side to any good efiling system is the ability to access electronic records without visiting a courthouse to do so. Yesterday I wasted almost two hours of my time becuase I needed to review a court file. The actual review took only about five minutes. However the travel to and back from the courthouse was nothing but wasted time.
I should have been able to access that file over the internet while sitting at my desk. After all, these are public documents that we are talking about. I don’t understand the institutional desire to deliberately make these documents hard to access.
In a Chicago Tribune article from February 2007, the Illinois Supreme Court reiterated its opposition to making public records publicly available:
But the Illinois Supreme Court, which sets the policy for all Illinois courts, said making records available on the Internet might make them too public, leaving litigants vulnerable to invasions of privacy. Officials cite everything from divorce records to civil complaints as problematic.
State court documents often contain “sensitive and personal information” and allegations that “are not necessarily true,” said Joseph Tybor, spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court.
“The court’s concern is over a person or persons who would just sit [at a computer] for hours on end and comb court files for information,” Tybor said. “If someone has to come to the courthouse to view the file, it makes it more likely that person has a bona-fide interest in the information.”
Critics say that’s an odd stance toward records that are, by law, public and available for anyone to view at the courthouse.
I agree with the critics. Court records are public documents, therefore they should be publicly available. It is simply ridiculous that I can access and review court records on cases courts all over the country without leaving my desk, but if I want to view a court file in a case in DuPage County, I have to drive there.
If a file contains sensative information, then that information can be filed under seal. Otherwise, the file should be publicly available. Illinois is not an insignificant state. We should be on the forefront of using technology to make our courts accessible to everyone. We should not be bringing up the rear with obstructionist polcies.