WSR 03-15-073

RULES OF COURT

STATE SUPREME COURT


[ July 10, 2003 ]

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF NEW GR 31 )

)

ORDER

NO. 25700-A-772



The JIS Committee having recommended the adoption of proposed New GR 31, and the Court having approved the proposed new rule for publication;

Now, therefore, it is hereby

ORDERED:

(a) That pursuant to the provisions of GR 9(f), the proposed new rule as attached hereto is to be published for comment in the Washington Reports, Washington Register, Washington State Bar Association and Administrative Office of the Court's websites.

(b) The purpose statement as required by GR 9(d), is published solely for the information of the Bench, Bar and other interested parties.

(c) Comments are to be submitted to the Clerk of the Supreme Court by either U.S. Mail or Internet E-Mail by no later than 90 days from the published date in the Washington Reports. Comments may be sent to the following addresses: P.O. Box 40929, Olympia, Washington 98504-0929, or Lisa.Bausch@courts.wa.gov. Comments submitted by e-mail message must be limited to 1500 words.

DATED at Olympia, Washington this 10th day of July 2003.
For the Court
Gerry L. Alexander


CHIEF JUSTICE

GR 31

ACCESS TO COURT RECORDS RULE



Purpose: The suggested access to court records rule sets forth the guidelines for access to court records in all state, district, and municipal courts in Washington. This rule informs and instructs the courts, practitioners, and the public about access to court records. The eventual placement of court records on public websites necessitates the adoption of this rule. The rule was developed with the understanding that courts are public institutions and that most court records should be available for public inspection whether the records are obtained at the court house or through the internet. However, the rule does recognize that certain court proceedings are not publicly accessible and records from these proceedings should not be available to the general public.

The rule was drafted by the data dissemination subcommittee of the JISC and approved by the JISC. The suggested rule contains a purpose section, scope section, definition section, and authorization section. It also indicates which records are accessible to the public and regulates the distribution of bulk and compiled court records. The suggested rule instructs the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop methods to notify the public of the accessibility of court records along with restrictions on accessibility. Finally, the suggested rule contains an appeals section.



GR 31

ACCESS TO COURT RECORDS


(a) Policy and Purpose. It is the policy of the courts to facilitate access to court records as provided by Article I, Section 10 of the Washington State Constitution. Access to court records is not absolute and shall be consistent with reasonable expectations of personal privacy and not unduly burden the business of the courts.

(b) Scope. This rule applies to all court records, regardless of the physical form of the court record, the method of recording the court record or the method of storage of the court record. Administrative records are not within the scope of this rule.

(c) Definitions.

(1) "Access" means the ability to view or obtain a copy of a court record.

(2) "Administrative record" means any record pertaining to the management, supervision or administration of the judicial branch, including any court, board or committee appointed by or under the direction of any court or other entity within the judicial branch, or the office of any county clerk.

(3) "Bulk distribution" means distribution of all, or a significant subset, of the information in court records, as is and without modification or compilation.

(4) "Compiled information" means information that is derived from the selection, aggregation, or reformulation by the court of some of the information from more than one individual court record.

(5) "Court record" includes, but is not limited to: i) Any document, information, or other thing that is collected, received, or maintained by a court in connection with a judicial proceeding. ii) Any index, calendar, docket, register of actions, official record of the proceedings, order, decree, judgment, minute, and any information in a case management system created or prepared by the court that is related to a judicial proceeding. Court record does not include data maintained by or for a judge pertaining to a particular case or party, such as personal notes and communications, memoranda, drafts, or other working papers; or information gathered, maintained, or stored by a government agency or other entity to which the court has access but which is not entered into the record.

(6) "Criminal justice agencies" are government agencies that perform criminal justice functions pursuant to statute or executive order and that allocate a substantial part of their annual budget to those functions.

(7) "Dissemination contract" means an agreement between a court record provider and any person or entity, except a Washington State court (Supreme Court, court of appeals, superior court, district court or municipal court), that is provided court records. The essential elements of a dissemination contract shall be promulgated by the JIS Committee.

(8) "Judicial Information System (JIS) Committee" is the committee with oversight of the statewide judicial information system. The judicial information system is the automated, centralized, statewide information system that serves the state courts.

(9) "Judge" means a judicial officer as defined in the Code of Judicial Conduct (CJC) Application of the Code of Judicial Conduct Section (A).

(10) "Public" includes an individual, partnership, joint venture, public or private corporation, association, federal, state, or local governmental entity or agency, however constituted, or any other organization or group of persons, however organized.

(11) "Public purpose agency" means governmental agencies included in the definition of "agency" in RCW 42.17.020 and other non-profit organizations whose principal function is to provide services to the public.

(d) Access.

(1) The public shall have access to all court records except as restricted by federal law, state law, court rule, court order, or case law.

(2) Except for cases that are sealed, confidential, or closed by statute, there shall be a publicly accessible indication of the existence of a court record to which access has been restricted. The publicly accessible indication shall not disclose the substance of the protected court record, including personal identifying information.

(3) Each court by action of a majority of the judges may from time to time make and amend local rules governing access to court records not inconsistent with this rule.

(e) Personal Identifiers Omitted or Redacted from Court Records

(1) Parties shall refrain from including, or shall redact, the following personal identifiers from their pleadings, whether filed electronically or on paper, unless otherwise ordered by the Court.

(A) Social Security Numbers. If the Social Security Number of an individual must be included in a document, only the last four digits of that number should be used.

(B) Names of Minor Children. If the involvement of a minor child must be mentioned, only that child's initials should be used, unless otherwise necessary.

(C) Financial Account Numbers. If financial account numbers are relevant, only the last four digits should be recited in the document.

(2) The responsibility for redacting these personal identifiers rests solely with counsel and the parties. The Court or the Clerk will not review each pleading for compliance with this rule.

(f) Distribution of Court Records Not Publicly Accessible

(1) A public purpose agency may request court records not publicly accessible for scholarly, governmental, or research purposes where the identification of specific individuals is ancillary to the purpose of the inquiry. In order to grant such requests, the court or the Administrator for the Courts must:

(A) Consider: i) the extent to which access will result in efficiencies in the operation of the judiciary; ii) the extent to which access will fulfill a legislative mandate; iii) the extent to which access will result in efficiencies in other parts of the justice system; and iv) the risks created by permitting the access.

(B) Determine, in its discretion, that filling the request will not violate this rule.

(C) Determine the minimum access to restricted court records necessary for the purpose is provided to the requestor.

(D) Assure that prior to the release of court records under section (f)(1), the requestor has executed a dissemination contract that includes terms and conditions which: i) require the requester to specify provisions for the secure protection of any data that is confidential; ii) prohibit the disclosure of data in any form which identifies an individual; iii) prohibit the copying, duplication, or dissemination of information or data provided other than for the stated purpose; and iv) maintain a log of any distribution of court records which will be open and available for audit by the court or the Administrator of the Courts. Any audit should verify that the court records are being appropriately used and in a manner consistent with this rule.

(2) Courts, court employees, clerks and clerk employees may access and use court records only for the purpose of conducting official court business.

(3) Criminal justice agencies may request court records not publicly accessible.

(A) The provider of court records shall approve the access level and permitted use for classes of criminal justice agencies including, but not limited to, law enforcement, prosecutors, and corrections. An agency that is not included in a class may request access.

(B) Agencies requesting access under this section of the rule shall identify the court records requested and the proposed use for the court records.

(C) Access by criminal justice agencies shall be governed by a dissemination contract. The contract shall: i) specify the data to which access is granted; ii) specify the uses which the agency will make of the data; and iii) include the agency's agreement that its employees will access the data only for the uses specified.

(g) Bulk and Compiled Distribution of Court Records

(1) A disclaimer approved by the JIS Committee must accompany all bulk or compiled distribution of court records.

(2) A request for bulk distribution of court records or for compiled information may be denied if providing the information will create an undue burden on court operations because of the amount of equipment, materials, staff time, computer time or other resources required to satisfy the request.

(3) The use of court records, distributed in bulk or in compiled form, for the purpose of commercial solicitation of individuals named in the court records is prohibited.

(h) Notice. The Administrator for the Courts shall develop a method to notify the public of access to court records and the restrictions on access.

(i) Appeals. Appeals of denials of access to JIS records maintained at state level shall be governed by the rules and policies established by the JIS Committee.

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