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MBA urges safeguards at hearing over court-record access

Thursday, Jun. 18, 2015
Article Picture
Photo Credit: Jason Scally
Attorney Peter Elikann testifies on behalf of the Massachusetts Bar Association at a public hearing on June 15, concerning the public's access to court case records.

Attorney Peter Elikann testified on behalf of the Massachusetts Bar Association at a public hearing on June 15, concerning the public's access to court case records. The hearing was conducted by the Trial Court Public Access to Court Records Committee ("the Committee"), chaired by Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat, which was appointed by Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey to develop a set of uniform Trial Court rules governing the public's access to view or copy paper and electronic court case records.

One of more than 20 speakers at the hearing, Elikann reiterated the MBA's long-held position that public access to court records--particularly those available online--must include safeguards to protect from inadvertent disclosure private and potentially damaging information concerning children, the mentally ill, victims of violent crime and other vulnerable members of society.

Children, in particular, would be particularly at risk for harm by the public disclosure of information related to divorce, abuse, adoption and other issues regularly addressed in the Probate and Family courts, Elikann noted. He also cited the increased risk of identity theft that would occur if financial and other sensitive personal information was readily available online. "Once it's out there, you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube," said Elikann

The MBA has voiced concern over unconditional access to court records since 2002, when the House of Delegates adopted a resolution asking the Supreme Judicial Court not to adopt any rule regarding access to court files on the Internet without taking into consideration the many concerns raised by members of the family law bar, the probate bar, the criminal defense bar, legal services organizations and others. In 2011, under then MBA President Denise Squillante, the MBA raised similar concerns when the SJC sought comments to proposed amendments to Rule 1:19 regarding media access to the courts. Squillante also testified individually before the Committee at the June 15 hearing.

The Committee will now draft a set of proposed rules, which will be posted for public comment. It will then reevaluate the proposed rules in light of all public comments received, and then present the proposed rules to the Trial Court and the Supreme Judicial Court for their consideration.