Jan 21, 2021

Thomas & LoCicero Leads Effort to Facilitate Speedier Access to Civil Cases

Under the rule change, the burden to black out confidential information typically will be on only lawyers and others who file court papers, not court clerks.

The Florida Supreme Court has dropped a statewide rule that requires court clerks to review all civil filings and to redact information deemed confidential.  The rule change is designed to eliminate delays in access to civil records.

In order to safeguard the public’s right of access to court records, opinion No. SC20-1765 specifically amends Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420(d)(1) to make the handling of confidential information the sole responsibility of the filer in most civil cases.  That means the burden of blacking out confidential information, such as Social Security numbers, typically will be on lawyers and others who file court papers, and not on the court clerks who process them. The clerk must designate information confidential only if the case type itself is confidential by law, a court order deems a filing confidential, or the filer files either a Notice of Confidential Information or a Motion to Determine Confidentiality of Court Records. The amendment does not alter the clerk’s duty to redact confidential information in criminal, guardianship, probate, adoption, or juvenile dependency and delinquency cases.

The amendment comes in response to a report recounting the experiences of two Courthouse News journalists as they sought access to civil complaints on the day those complaints were filed at courthouses throughout Florida.  Published by Thomas & LoCicero in December 2018 on behalf of a coalition of news media organizations, that report demonstrated the routine delays reporters faced, often tied to clerks’ reviewing and redacting each filing prior to providing public access.

“We’re grateful that the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to allowing the public prompt access to court records,” said Carol LoCicero, who spearheaded the effort. “Clerk review had become a bottleneck that did not exist in other states and is not needed in civil cases.”

The amendment takes effect on July 1, 2021 at 12:01 a.m.  Public comment on the amendment must be submitted by April 6, 2021.

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