Barring bulk copies of electronic court records connected to plan to consolidate all such records online?

The Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision to bar bulk distribution of electronic court records apparently is connected to a plan to consolidate court records from all 77 counties onto one Web site with free access by the public, according to newspaper coverage Wednesday.

Until then, district court records will be available for free on the state-run Oklahoma State Courts Network and the privately owned On Demand Court Records, The Oklahoman reported.

The newspaper reported the Supreme Court signed a $1 million contract in August with KellPro Inc., the operator of On Demand Court Records, to get data from the courts it serves ready for conversion to the new system.

The administrative directive barring bulk distribution resulted from a request by Edmond-based INAD Data Service LLC for electronic copies of all district court and workers' compensation court case information, reported The Oklahoman and Tulsa World on Wednesday.

Chief Justice James Edmondson told the Tulsa World that the court "did not have a specific rule to determine how to handle this request, which could have cost the (requester) an estimated $20,000 to $40,000 to have the request filled."

So the decision was to bar such requests?

Edmondson told the newspaper that media requests for bulk copies should not be affected by the new rule.

However, the directive, which the justices unanimously approved on Oct. 8., states, "Bulk distribution of any electronic case data by a software provider is not allowed.

"Electronic access is available only to the electronic case information of a particular case. When a search for electronic case information for an individual case returns multiple results, each result may be viewed only individually." (SCAD-2009-92)

No mention of exceptions for requests made in the public interest.

Edmondson said the court would "comply with the Open Records laws and other laws affecting public records."

But the directive seems to carve an exception from the Open Records Act. It's an exemption that
certainly wouldn't be tolerated in regard to other government records.

The justices are to be applauded for wanting to make district court records from all 77 counties available online for free.

But what does barring bulk distribution have to do with that plan?

Perhaps the justices intend to remove the restriction once the new system is in place.
We don't know because they haven't explained their plan to the public.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.