PUBLIC ACCESS TO THE COURTS
The New York State court system, like others across the nation, is examining
the meaning of public access to court records in the age of the
Internet. Based on last year's report from a commission that studied
the need to ensure open access to court records while protecting legitimate
privacy and confidentiality concerns, the court system has developed
a three-part plan to implement the recommendation that public
court records be made available in electronic form over the Internet to
the same extent that they are available in paper at the courthouse,
with limited exceptions to protect sensitive information.
DECISIONS – Since 2000, some decisions from some courts have been published
on the court system's Web site, largely at the discretion of individual
judges. Under the new policy, decisions of all courts and all case
types will be posted on the Web, subject to confidentiality limitations.
As of January 1, 2005, over 156,000 trial court decisions were posted.
CALENDARS AND OTHER CASE INFORMATION – Currently, calendars and other
case information for pending Supreme Court civil cases in all counties
are published online on the "Future Court Appearance System" Web
site, which receives approximately one million visits a year. Information
is also available there for Housing Court in New York City and Erie
County and for criminal cases in New York City and certain counties.
The site can be accessed at www.nycourts.gov by double-clicking on
"e-courts." Internet access to this information will be enhanced and
extended to additional case-types and counties.
CASE FILES – The posting of actual files on the Internet presents a particularly
difficult challenge. While there are electronic-filing pilots around
the State, most cases are still filed by paper. Creating electronic versions
of large case files presents significant issues of its own. In order to properly
address the confidentiality and redaction issues involved, this component
of the plan will be tested in a pilot program, which is under
The public has a right to know basic information about elected or
appointed officials who hold important positions of public trust.
In February, the New York State Unified Court System took an important
step toward this goal by unveiling a Judicial Directory at:
www.nycourts.gov/judges/directory.shtml. The site provides basic
biographical information about judges, including educational background;
admission to the bar; prior professional experience; current
and prior judicial seats, whether elected or appointed (and, if appointed,
by whom); professional and civic activities and affiliations; and publications.
The Judicial Directory was created in response to calls from
the public, the media and bar associations to provide more information
about state judges in an accessible manner. Because the information
was not available in one place or in any uniform way, finding information
about most judges was a time-consuming and labor-intensive
The creation of the directory was also recommended by Chief Judge
Kaye's Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections,
known as the Feerick Commission, with the goal of creating a betterinformed
In another effort to make information more accessible to the public,
the court system is posting more details on its Web site about attorneys
admitted to practice in New York State. Previously, the information
available consisted of names, business addresses and phone numbers,
and attorney registration numbers.
Now, in addition, by clicking on "Attorney Directory" at www.nycourts.gov/attorneys, anyone can learn the date and Judicial Department
of admission; the law school attended; the attorney's registration
status - whether an attorney is currently registered, due to register or
delinquent; and whether an attorney's status has been affected by any
ATTORNEY ACCESS TO CASE INFORMATION ONLINE
Attorneys now have increased online access to criminal case information,
eliminating a trip to the clerk's office to look at the case file. The
first phase of this initiative enabled attorneys to access information -
including details about the charges, scheduled appearances and
motions - from computer terminals in the courthouse. As of May, attorneys
can also access the same information remotely over the Internet.
All that is needed to access the system is a user ID. The initiative
includes pending cases in all criminal courts in New York City, Buffalo
City Court and the County Court in Erie, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester,
Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Dutchess Counties. A special feature of
the program can provide email notification to the attorney of future
court appearances in the case being tracked.
The application for a user ID, available to attorneys at no charge,
is available at: www.courts.state.ny.us/forms/AttorneyAccessto
CRIMS.pdf. A list of courthouse terminals is available at:
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