By PAUL YOUNG
Beginning Jan. 1, less information will be available to members of the public seeking updates on criminal cases via the Riverside County Superior Court website — unless they’re willing to pay for it.
Citing a provision in the California Rules of the Court, the Superior Court will alter the content of registers of action so that only the bare minimum information is viewable.
“The register, by law, is only supposed to be a summary, Cliffs Notes describing an action,” county Court Executive Officer Sherri Carter told City News Service. “It has never been intended, nor should it be, to provide all the details.”
Currently, when users of the court’s web portal request information on a criminal case, they’re directed to a single-page register of action that lists attorney names, bail information, related cases, hearing dates and dispositions, as well as the clerk’s minutes describing what transpired during a hearing, including witness appearances and judicial actions on motions.
According to Carter, after Jan. 1, the minutes on the register will be replaced with one- or two-line references to the outcome of a case.
Attorney names, bail figures, criminal histories and other facts will be removed from the register, she told CNS.
“It will not be so easy to find so much information on the criminal side,” Carter said.
She said complete synopses, or minute orders, will be available via links on the register pages — but there will be unspecified fees to access those documents.
Court website users, under changes implemented in July 2010, already pay anywhere from 30 cents to a dollar for access to the register of actions for a defendant. However, if a user has a defendant’s case number and date of birth, inputting that data will result in immediate free online access.
That will not apply to opening minute orders under the new system.
Carter said interested parties can always go to the courthouse and request to see documents, or order them via the mail for a fee.
According to California Administrative Office of the Courts attorney Patrick O’Donnell, publishing only fragmentary information on the registers of action assures that defendants’ privacy rights are not infringed.
“There’s an extensive amount of information that some case management systems are generating that’s not appropriate to have remotely,” O’Donnell told CNS. “The rules of the court attempt to strike a general kind of balance.”
He said both state and federal court rulings narrow down what case details should be viewable via the Internet.
“The courts are sensitive to too much information being available online,” O’Donnell said. “There have been complaints … that led the courts to review and change policies and practices.”
California Rule of the Court 2.507 provides the minimum of what should be accessible and what should be excluded.
According to Carter, the county’s post-Jan. 1 system will be analogous to what’s already in place in neighboring Los Angeles and Orange counties.
She said that by imposing fees for viewing documents attached to the registers, the Superior Court can recoup some of the funds expended for operating electronic records programs, which are not mandatory.
“We get no money from the state for making online access available. Zero,” Carter said.