Juggling Public Record Requests – Keep Those Balls in the Air

 

Tim Zarzycki, Senior Account Executive, ImageSoft, Inc.

iStock_000011704687_MediumAmong the multitude of daily tasks performed by court clerks is responding to public requests for records. These records include case files, dockets/summaries of court cases and courtroom proceedings, records about defendants, criminal records, and long email threads, often with photos and videos attached. In addition to explaining court actions and decisions, these records are generally accessible to the public based on state sunshine laws, open records laws or public records laws. In an era of greater scrutiny and demands for transparency, clerks need better ways to handle public record requests.

It’s a juggling act that gets more complicated by the day.

Day-to-day challenges

Giving the public its right of access to public records can be a cumbersome challenge for paper-based courts or courts working without an integrated case management system. It clogs operations and requires scarce resources. In addition to coordinating and maintaining the case file associated with such requests, courts also face such challenges as:

  • Siloed data and documents in each department with incompatible formatting — hunting down documents from multiple departments, locations and filing cabinets puts a burden on government staff and leads to lengthy fulfillment cycles
  • Challenges of tracking and distributing requests, reviewing long email chains, making phone calls and hunting down documents; most tracking systems are spreadsheets that require manual data entry which further consumes staff time
  • Need for a consistent layout for the request packet
  • Need to maintain correspondence with requestor, additional departments
  • Inconsistent/poorly defined request methods
  • Audit trail requirements
  • Protocols for redaction
  • Retention times/discard times/destruction processes with certificates of destruction
  • Fee collection processes
  • Statutory deadlines for providing public records
  • Document security

The right solution

JusticeTech’s public records solutions create a complete package to manage the full scope of public records needs, helping courts meet their legal responsibilities for transparency and open government initiatives. The solutions help court clerks and staff retrieve and bundle documents to meet record requests, provide self-service access to documents and records, automate the request process and redact confidential information. These solutions:

  • Simplify request submission and delivery for constituents
  • Provide comprehensive search for complete request fulfillment
  • Improve process transparency and reporting for better constituent service

Read more about automating request for public records and keep that juggling act in the air.

How are you managing public requests for court records?

 

eFiling: Audit Trail and Confidentiality

This is Part 10 of 10 in the eFiling Blog Series, check out Part 9 here.

To conclude this eFiling series, let’s look back at a few pieces posted in the past that dealt with the enhancement of both the audit trail and the control over confidentiality offered by eFiling.

Audit Trail

One of the fun pieces I wrote, inspired by a presentation David Slayton, included an explanation of the audit trail provided by a good eFiling system.

[David] says … “… I know EXACTLY where the document came from, and whose profile was used to send it.” Knowing that a document has come from the right place, and knowing whose secure profile was used to send it, constitute security orders of magnitude greater than a written signature on a piece of paper…

Taking David’s point a step further, in an appropriately implemented Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with workflow system, not only do you know where the document came from, you know where it’s been and where it’s supposed to be going. It’s like Billy’s trail in the Family Circus: it leaves its tracks. It keeps track of who has looked at it and when. It keeps track of what was done to it, by whom, and when. And, unlike Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail, it doesn’t disappear.

91_familycircus

…. [I]n a properly implemented ECM with workflow system, not only do we know that the document comes from who it’s supposed to; we know whether or not it’s been altered since it was sent, who has touched it, where it’s been, where it’s heading, whether it’s behavior makes sense, and if not, what would make better sense.

Stalking the Wily Electronic Documents, January 12, 2015

In another piece, I got to use one of my favorite pieces of doggerel (“Last night I saw upon the stair/ A little man who wasn’t there…”) to illustrate how a well-designed ECM system provides auditable Record Integrity:

A reliable document Chain of Custody in the paper world is merely a means of attempting to protect the Principal of Integrity. (Albeit an expensive, labor-intensive, highly unreliable, almost-never-completely followed means). Even with special viewing areas and monitors, do courts control ALL access by ALL staff, ALL attorneys, and ALL judges, not to mention cleaning and security staff? Not usually.

ECM provides a built-in mechanism for maintaining an audit trail of the Chain of Custody for court documents, providing end-to-end assurance of document integrity. ECM users view documents on screen and don’t come in contact with the physical file. From identity and signature authentication (when needed) at the front end, through tracking who accesses each document and when, to ”locking out changes” to prevent tampering, ECM absolutely protects document integrity…

Proving the Negative, October 3, 2011

Confidentiality

Confidentiality has several aspects. There’s things like judge’s notes, intended only for the judge or designated persons. Then there’s confidential information, like Social Security Numbers, minors’ names, abuse victims’ addresses, and so on, contained in otherwise public documents. There are totally confidential documents, like Secret Indictments. There are confidential case types, like some juvenile matters or adoptions, where the entire case is confidential.

eFiling and ECM provide greater control of confidential information, at all levels of granularity – from individual data element to entire case. Who can see what can be tightly controlled and administered. So, for example, attorneys on confidential juvenile cases can see their clients’ files, but no others. Court employees and judges with clearance can see confidential data that has been redacted using automated, workflow-enabled tools making it invisible to unauthorized persons.

However, as I noted in the March 14, 2012 posting,

This does not mean courts should not carefully review and, if required, modify rules and statutes to make certain there are no unpleasant surprises … The paper-on-demand court environment IS different than the hard-copy environment. The area of Public Records discoverability has wrinkles in the paper-on-demand environment that never arise in the paper world…

… Recommended best practice:

1) Ensure that disclosure rules call out both electronic and paper work product as their own non-disclosable category of information;

2) Maintain the non-disclosable work product documents in separate document types from formal court records, with security configuration that prevents viewing by unauthorized system users; and

3) Support electronic document annotations that don’t technically alter the original document and have their own security distinct from the document

Assuring Judicial Work Product Confidentiality in a Paper-On-Demand Court, March 12, 2012

While the business case for eFiling generally emphasizes the savings, convenience, work process streamlining, and quality improvements, the benefits of having a robust, easily managed audit trail and greatly enhanced control over confidentiality certainly should not be overlooked as additional “low-hanging fruit” when moving to eFiling and ECM.