Justices take issue with clerks' court records bill
They should issue the rules on redacting private information, they believe.
By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published March 3, 2006
TALLAHASSEE - Florida Supreme Court justices said this week that they understood that they were the ones who should decide how private information, such as Social Security numbers, will be removed from court records.
Justices responded to a bill being pushed by state court clerks that would absolve the clerks from the responsibility of redacting an estimated 8-billion to 10-billion pages of old court records. The bill also calls for those who file court records after Jan. 1, 2007, to decide themselves what information should be withheld from the public.
Justice R. Fred Lewis and Chief Justice Barbara J. Pariente said that they thought the Legislature had asked them to figure out how to administer privacy laws in court records, which is why they had gone to the trouble of creating the Committee on Privacy and Court Records to produce recommendations. That work continues.
"It seems to me that it's perceived that the judicial branch is trying to jump in some place it should not be, in dealing with its own records," Lewis said.
Kenneth Kent, executive director of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, said earlier that his group was concerned about getting overwhelmed by the task of redacting from existing court records. His group wrote the new bill in response to that concern.
"We have neither the resources nor the opportunity of identifying the exemptions and carrying that out," Kent said on Wednesday during the forum.
Less than a day later, their lobbyist, Fred Baggett, invited journalists to the Greenberg Traurig law firm to explain the bill, which is how the clerks would prefer to have privacy issues resolved.
Sponsored by Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, and Rep. Will Kendrick, D-Carrabelle, the bill would change a law poised to go into effect Jan. 1 that would require private information - like Social Security numbers, credit card, bank and debit card numbers - to be redacted from all records before being made available to the public.
The clerks' bill would remove the requirement about redacting older records, unless someone filing a court record specifically asks for that information to be taken out. For filings after Jan. 1, the bill places the responsibility of removing the information on the individual filer.
The clerks' group has hired two high-profile Tallahassee public relations firms - to the tune of $18,000 a month - to plug the bill. Randy Long, the group's program director, said the firms also were hired for other tasks, and the fees are being paid out of investment income, not clerks' member fees, some of which come from the taxpayer.
Justice Pariente said Wednesday that she believed the Supreme Court would be issuing a rule to deal with the clerks' biggest concerns. She said one of the committee's recommendations was to narrow exemptions, meaning less information would have to be redacted, which would lighten the burden.
"It would have to be a rule . . . to specifically set out a finite set of exemptions that are appropriate in the court context and readily identifiable," Pariente told Kent.
[Last modified March 3, 2006, 02:15:34]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]