Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Long Odyssey: Doxpop's 4-year Quest Pays Off

Doxpop is now posting court cases from counties using the Odyssey case management system online. This means that several courts previously removed from Doxpop will be rejoining us and many new counties will add their court records. This is good news for our customers, our company, and—we believe—for the general public.

A significant development in Indiana court case public access has made this extension of public court case access possible, more than four years after the first court adopted the Odyssey case management system. On September 13, 2011, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an “Order Concerning the Bulk Distribution of and Remote Access to Court Records in the Electronic Form”, requiring that approved organizations like Doxpop be allowed to receive delivery of the cases. 

Back in October of 2007, anticipating the conversion of the Monroe County courts to Odyssey, Doxpop filed an initial request for access to the public information (in the case of Monroe County this would have allowed us to continue to post their courts’ records on Doxpop, which we had done since 2002). Each year since then we have renewed our request, but have never received access to this public information until a couple of weeks ago. “Better late than never”, we suppose, but four years was a long time to await this proper decision.

Doxpop receives no public money to support our service. Rather, it is supported entirely by service fees from voluntary subscribers. Because of this, we are always looking at the bottom line and working to keep our costs down. The bottom line on this particular data set is that it is very expensive, because in an unusual policy decision, a government agency has decided on its own to charge more than the cost of reproduction for public information.

During the past four years, the Administrative Division of the Indiana State Court has maintained a firm policy that private businesses like ours may not make a profit when providing the service of delivering court data in bulk. In an ironic twist, the Administrative Division has now decided that although private sector firms may not make a profit on this service, the Administrative Division may charge whatever they deem to be the "fair market value" of the information.

We are scratching our heads over how "market value" can be reasonably determined in the absence of a free market. Even more interesting is the notion of a government agency deciding to compete in a market that they also regulate. This is certainly not unheard of- In fact it has echoes in the ongoing national debate over health care. However, it is an unusual step for an agency to take without the sanction of a representative body such as the legislature. We hope that, as the branch of Indiana government charged with making fiscal policy, the Indiana legislature might provide the Administrative Division with some guidance on this policy in the future.

Regardless of the concerns we have with the policies lurking in the background, the Doxpop team is delighted to be able to enhance and extend our database by adding these courts, making Doxpop even more valuable to you. Keep watching for updates on Odyssey data!

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