On January 21st, the Supreme Court of Florida struck down an old rule that required clerks to redact private information from court records before sharing them with the public, including journalists.
The unanimous decision was celebrated by media lawyers and court reporters who have long complained that the rule created unnecessary delays.
“It made me feel gratified and proud of the judicial system, because the justices value transparency and they took concrete steps to make sure Florida’s courts are open,” Carol LoCicero told Courthouse News. LoCicero, a First Amendment lawyer in Florida, helped push the courts to amend the rule.
The problem apparently became so bad that in 2018, a Courthouse News reporter traveled around the state to assess the problem. In a report published that year, the reporter concluded that the majority of delays were due to the fact that clerks had to review and redact every filing before making them available to the public.
According to Courthouse News, Florida was the only state that required clerks to review court filings. Other states typically require the filing lawyer to redact information.
After reviewing the negative impact the rule had on the public’s right of access to court records, the judges decided that the process was no longer worth upholding.
“This Court has previously expressed its commitment to safeguard the public’s right of access to court records…Accordingly, to address timely access to court records, we now amend subdivision (d)(1) to provide that, in certain civil cases, the clerk of court does not have an independent responsibility to identify and designate information as confidential. Instead, that is the sole responsibility of the filer,” the ruling states.
According to the ruling, clerks may still review court documents for privacy purposes but only in some circumstances, such as when it is deemed confidential by a court order.