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Toledo Legal News - Bill designed to improve access to court documents

 

A bi-partisan bill with the intended goals of greater transparency and accessibility to certain court documents filed at county common pleas courts cleared committee work earlier this month and awaits a vote by the Ohio House of Representatives.

House Bill 567 calls on clerks of Ohio common pleas courts to make a court’s general civil docket available for viewing online and printing from the clerks’ websites.

A joint sponsor of the bill, Rep. Brian Stewart, said that 37 counties already have embraced the technology and the requirements of the bill, having made their dockets and associated images available online.

“An additional 47 counties make a list of docket entries available online, but do not provide for viewing the pleadings themselves,” the Ashville Republican said during sponsor testimony. “Only three counties have neither an online docket, nor images, online.”

HB 567 stipulates that no later than 18 months after the bill’s effective date, common pleas courts’ clerks must make the courts’ general dockets available on the clerk’s website for remote access by the public all documents in each case file pertaining to civil cases filed on or after that effective date.

Fellow joint sponsor of the bill " Canal Winchester Rep. Richard Brown, a Democrat " said the intent is to make the information available to the public remotely for viewing and printing.

“HB 567 will allow the public to access the general dockets entries along with pleading images, which can save time, resources, and money for the staff that work in the clerk of courts,” Brown said. “Additionally, this bill will streamline the process for every county and ensure everyone is meeting the same basic standards of service.”

Stewart explained that the legislation had been developed in collaboration with the Ohio Clerk of Courts Association.

“Every indication we have received to date is that the cost for this implementation is very nominal and will be an easily absorbed cost of doing business for those counties who have not yet made this move already,” he said. “This is evident from the fact that many of the counties which have already implemented the requirements of this bill include counties with some of the smallest budgets in Ohio, including Coshocton, Meigs, Fayette, Jackson, Meigs, Mercer, and Perry counties, just to name a few.”

According to fiscal analysis of HB 567 by the non-partisan Ohio Legislative Service Commission, total costs for each affected court clerk will differ based on county population and caseload, the court’s current case management system and the case management vendor.

Sample estimates included one-time costs, totaling $11,900, and a recurring cost of $1,760 for maintenance, according to the analysis.

“Coupled with the significant federal monies disbursed to counties over the last two years, we are confident that complying with this legislation will pose no material burden to any county,” Stewart said.

Brown assured fellow lawmakers that internal documents or any information in a case file that is ordered restricted to public access under the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio is not required to be made public online.

“Stated another way, any sensitive information which a judge has ordered to be sealed, will not be available online,” the lawmaker concluded.

During a final hearing of the measure, an amendment clarifying that domestic relations and juvenile court dockets are not required to be online was approved before the committee turned over the bill to the full House.

Nine fellow House members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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