New Jersey to Expand Access to Court Records
New Jersey’s courts will expand access to Judicial records. According to an email we received this morning from the Court that apparently was sent to all registered eCourts users, beginning on October 1, 2018, the public will have electronic access to civil case records filed in eCourts. Right now, only attorneys who are registered with eCourts may access the system. In the past, one of the limitations on public access to Court records is that the public could not access copies of records through an online portal. The public could only access the names and dates of the filings, and certain other information. In contrast, the eCourts system provides access to copies of the documents themselves. The official court notice regarding this new access is here.
If the public is given access to eCourts on par with attorneys, that would represent a major advancement in transparency. Right now, the public can access court-filed documents only by making OPRA requests to a public agency if the agency is a party to the case, or by making a written request or in-person request to the Court where the case was filed. On-line access, without having to make a formal request, would substantially increase transparency and reduce the burden on the Clerk’s Office, since most people seeking Court records will probably be able to utilize the Court’s website.
Not all records will be available. The Court’s announcement applies to cases filed in Special Civil Part (e.g., debt collection/landlord tenant), Foreclosure, and Civil Law (e.g., car accidents, commercial disputes, OPRA cases). The announcement does not apply to other types of cases, such as Family cases or appeals.
For anyone filing papers with the Court, including attorneys, they must become even more vigilant about redacting personal identifiers from Court filings, since the Court’s database will now be open to the world for inspection. Under current Court rules, social security numbers (the entire number, not just the first five digits), driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, insurance policy numbers (any type of policy), and active bank and financial account numbers must be redacted from Court records. Those filing in Court should also consider not including other potentially sensitive information in Court records if they do not have to, such as birthdays, passwords, and names of minors. If such information must be filed with the Court and you don’t want it to be publicly available, seek permission to file the papers under seal before filing the papers with the Court.
Even with this new public access, navigating the Court system is extremely difficult for non-lawyers. The Court system can even be overwhelming for some lawyers who do not have a background in litigation. If you have any legal questions, please contact us for a free consultation at 908-894-5656.
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