In another clash over public access to court records online, judges in southern Ohio’s Butler County have ordered the removal of domestic relations cases from a Web site, the Cincinnati Enquirer says. By law, the records are still publicly available at the courthouse, but hundreds of people have complained about them being taken off the Internet. To allow public access, a court clerk must let users onto the computer network in secure employee areas, which creates security risks.
The judges believe that Ohio law may need to be changed, and the county’s computer system may need to be reprogrammed to exclude images that contain Social Security numbers, dates of birth, bank-account numbers and other sensitive personal data. Laws require that data to be kept on domestic relations filings. A simpler, cheaper fix could be what a clerk calls “the 99-cent black-marker solution, redacting the part they’re concerned about,” then making the blacked-out document available to the public.
In neighboring Hamilton County, Clerk of Courts Gregory Hartmann is keeping an eye on the Butler dispute. If Hamilton County judges were to pull the plug, “I think it would set off a big uproar; our office is much larger than Butler County’s,” Hartmann said, noting that his Web site, www.courtclerk.org, draws about 25 million “hits” a month; www.butlercountyclerk.org sees about 14,000 visits.
Butler County Commissioner Michael A. Fox calls for greater openness and accountability in the county’s domestic relations courts. He called the judges’ order “a judicial tantrum” designed to curtail scrutiny of their actions. “Collection of information does not require disclosure of information,” he said. “They can keep the personal information in their administrative files. It’s as simple as that.”