Thursday, September 15, 2011

Indiana Judiciary Goes into Business

The Indiana Supreme Court issued an Order Concerning the Bulk Distribution of and Remote Access To Court Records in the Electronic Form on 9/13/2011. This is significant for two reasons: it permits bulk access to information stored in the state judiciary's case management system; and, it allows the judiciary to charge a fee greater than the cost of reproduction for bulk and remote access to information.
Allowing bulk access to the information stored in the judiciary's case management system (Odyssey) is a good thing. This will allow Doxpop and more than a dozen other organizations to spread the news about what is happening or has happened in the courts. This increases the transparency of our court system and allows the will of the courts to be more widely known.
The Order and its contemporaneous Order Amending Indiana Administrative Rules allow the judiciary to set its own rates and charge for bulk and remote access to court case information in electronic form. On October 1, 2011, the judiciary will be entering the information services business, effectively creating a profit center within the judiciary. This is a concern because it means that the judiciary is no longer devoted exclusively to the even-handed administration of justice; it also has a business to run.
Doxpop submitted its first formal request for access to this public information on October 25, 2007 and has renewed that request annually. I am pleased that the Court has worked through the policy and technical issues, but a bit disappointed that it took nearly 4 years.
During the past four years, the judiciary has maintained a firm policy that self-funded businesses may not charge more than the cost of reproduction when providing the service of delivering court data in bulk. The decision that a publicly funded agency may now make a profit for providing the same service represents an abrupt change to say the least. Lawmakers might well ask whether this change in the rules will apply evenly to all service providers, public and private. I hope that the same policy applies; it will bolster the reputation of the judiciary as a bastion of fair and consistent administration of rules.
This is my fervent hope: that the judiciary will exercise good judgment in avoiding conflicts of interest between operating its own information services business and in regulating other businesses with which it sometimes competes.

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