Maryland’s highest court has adopted a rules that provide for broad public access to state courts. The Washington Post says the result was far different from the original proposal. The Court of Appeals, with one opposing vote, formalized the presumption that all court records are open to the public. The court ordered that records that are public in paper form remain public when computerized. The court did limit access to some information, Social Security numbers–a step that data service and credit agencies opposed. Media representatives were for the most part satisfied. “We appreciate the time and care the court took in developing them,” said Carol Melamed, a vice president of The Washington Post and as chairman of the government affairs committee for the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. “We still have a few individual issues, particularly on whether certain statutes [exclude particular] court records, but overall the rules provide public access that is very much in the public interest.”
The original plan — drafted in 2000 by court officials and an assistant state attorney general — was intended to protect privacy rights by making it difficult to retrieve information contained in court records, such as home addresses and telephone numbers. The plan outraged groups that rely on court records, such as media organizations, private detectives, and credit agencies. Critics objected particularly to a provision that would have blocked the public from viewing computerized records but allowed police, government agencies, and lawyers unfettered access.