[PHOTO CREDIT: Facebook / Lake County Clerk of Court]
[Original Publish Date: 01/25/21]
TAVARES, Florida – Access to certain classes of public records filed with Lake County’s local clerk of court in Tavares may soon quicken, as the direct result of a Florida Supreme Court rule-amendment released Thursday.
As explained in the Court’s Jan. 21 opinion (SC20-1765), “[N]ews media organizations in Florida have reported concerning delays in their access to nonconfidential court records, in part due to the requirement that the clerks of court independently review all new filings for confidential information.” The opinion further explained that “a coalition of news media organizations” published a summary report and “[t]he report concludes that access to court records, both in person and online, was routinely delayed. The report also suggests the primary reason for the delays is because the clerks of court are responsible for reviewing and redacting every filing prior to allowing access.” (Lake Legal News Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, played a role in gathering data which became part of the report by visiting several clerk of court offices, including Tavares, making public records requests and logging the time taken by deputy clerks to fulfill those requests.)
The rule-amendment impacts a narrow class of civil court filings, specifically those with uniform case numbering designations originating in circuit (CA), county (CC), or small claims court (SC) – and an exception still remains for case types listed as ” Viewable on Request” (VOR) pursuant to other sections of law. Nonetheless, the Court’s rule change means that as of its July 1, 2021 effective date, “…to address timely access to court records… in certain civil cases, the clerk of court does not have an independent responsibility to identify and designate information as confidential. Instead, that is the sole responsibility of the filer.”
When reached for comment, the Honorable Gary J. Cooney told LLN: “[T]he the Supreme Court of Florida determines the confidentiality of information found within court records. In fact, the Court is currently much less restrictive than the Florida Legislature when dealing with the issue of which information should be confidential. As the Clerk of the Circuit and County Courts, I do not set the policy for the confidentiality of court records, I simply follow what the Supreme Court directs. I do have some questions about what I believe are inconsistencies between the change to Rule 2.420 and the Access Security Matrix referenced in the SC20-1765, but hopefully the Court will resolve these inconsistencies prior to the July 1, 2021 effective date of the order.”
James Hope is a Florida Bar Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyer who has been practicing criminal law in Tavares, Florida, since 1987. He has also been the Publisher and Executive Editor of Lake Legal News since 2009. He may be contacted at LakeLegalNews@gmail.com, or through his website at www.AttorneyJamesHope.com. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]