Monday, January 12, 2009

Doxpop submits 798-page request for access to public information from Indiana Courts

On Friday, January 9, 2009, Doxpop shipped off its 798-page 2009 AR-9(F) request (pdf) for access to non-confidential case information in Indiana. Doxpop works with county clerks and judges to publish information about court cases on the Internet as permitted by Trial Rule 77(K) (html). Bulk access to court case information is governed by Administrative Rule 9(F) (html) and certain administrative authority under the rule is granted to the Division of State Court Administration, Lilia Judson, Executive Director.

In addition to a cover letter and a few pages of information specific to our request, the Division requires that we attach: 1) orders of consent from judges in each county from which we receive information, 2) copies of contracts with each county from which we receive information, and 3) copies of contracts with anyone to whom we provide bulk data. With about 50 counties participating in the Doxpop network, and 5 other organizations that receive bulk data via Doxpop, the paperwork adds up quickly.

But wait, there's more. There's another 4000 pages to submit before January 31. Each county that utilizes Doxpop to publish information on the Internet under TR-77(K) must also submit its own paperwork to the Division. This includes: 1) orders of consent from the judges in the county, 2) a copy of the contract with the county, and 3) detailed information about the Doxpop service and its user agreements. This adds up to about 80 pages per county. To facilitate the process, Doxpop prepares this paperwork for submission by the clerk.

It's worth noting that the consent orders and contracts in each TR-77(K) request are identical to the ones submitted by Doxpop in its AR-9(F) request. And the information about the Doxpop services is identical in each TR-77(K) request. All of this needs to be completed between January 1 and January 31: new consent orders from the judges, new AR-9(F) request from Doxpop, approval by the Division of Doxpop's request, and new TR-77(K) requests by each clerk. All of this at a busy time of year, especially for judges and clerks who just took office.

As you can see from the cover letter, Doxpop has some concerns about how the Division has chosen to interpret the rules. I'll say more about that in upcoming blog entries. For now I'll suggest that the current process is poorly designed, at best, or designed to frustrate clerks, judges, and counties who have not switched to the state-provided case management system, at worst. In the letter sent to clerks last year (pdf), the second paragraph seems to imply the latter.

Of course we comply with the process prescribed by the Division, but surely there's a better way.

Ray