Investigative News & Resources
Proposed budget sets aside $10 million for legal records database
Associated Press March 18, 2007
COLUMBUS, Ohio - More than $10 million has been set aside in Gov. Ted Strickland's proposed two-year budget for the Ohio Supreme Court to develop an online database where law enforcement, government officials and the public could conveniently access legal records from courts statewide.
Millions of pages of court documents become public records in Ohio each year in 385 courts around the state. Some courts in Ohio's 88 counties use sophisticated technology and regularly post records online, while others don't do any electronic filing at all.
"Ohio cannot afford not to do this," said Chris Davey, spokesman for Chief Justice Thomas Moyer. "Under the current system, a person could commit domestic violence in Cuyahoga County and move to Medina County, and the courts would not have 100 percent ability to know about that previous offense."
The site, dubbed the Ohio Courts Network, has been discussed since 2003 with little progress. An Internet database would allow judges, attorneys and the public to easily reference criminal and civil cases, but putting vast amounts of paperwork online also creates security and privacy concerns.
While groups representing probate and municipal court judges and the Ohio Clerk of Courts Association support the program, juvenile and domestic court judges have remained silent because of concerns about privacy.
Since the public would have access, courts would have to sort through prickly issues of how to ensure that private information, such as Social Security numbers, isn't posted online.
"There are some downsides, one being standards for privacy issues," said retired Judge Mark Schweikert, executive director of the Ohio Judicial Conference, which supports the network.
"You have to think about putting things on the Internet as publishing" as well as an access tool, he said.
Officials also would have to figure out how to coordinate between courts that use different formats for their records.
"The logistics will be difficult," said Keith Hurley, chief deputy of the Cuyahoga County clerk of courts. "I think it makes perfect sense to do it, but I think there will be a lot of issues to figure out because every one of us has a different case management system."
While Strickland's budget proposal allotted $10.5 million for the project, that amount could change as the details of the final budget are hammered out with legislators.
The Supreme Court would use the money to hire a contractor to develop the Web site during the next three months, said Robert Stuart, the court's director of information technology. By the end of the year, the court wants to launch a pilot program with 15 to 20 courts and a handful of state agencies, such as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, feeding information into the network.
Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com
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