The Barrister Fall 2017 - 24

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TECHNOLOGY
FRANKLY SPEAKING

Pennsylvania's New
Public Access Policy
By Jeffrey A. Franklin, Esquire

T

he Berks County Bar Association (BCBA) held
an informative, free Continuing Legal Education
(CLE) seminar entitled "Be Prepared: The New Public
Access Policy Governing Filings" as part of its October 24, 2017
recognition of those individuals who serve on the Berks Pro
Bono Team by either volunteering at MidPenn Legal Services,
Family Detention Center, Berks Encore, Safe Berks, Mortgage
Foreclosure Diversion Project, or paying an "opt-out" fee.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has adopted a new
public access policy (http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/
Supreme/out/477jad-attach1.pdf?cb=1) that, for the first time,
establishes uniform standards for all Pennsylvania appellate and
trial courts in responding to requests from the public for case
records. The policy includes how requests for access are to be
handled, establishes a limit on copying fees and delineates what
information will be safeguarded.
The policy was initially published in draft form for public
comment in 2015, and responses were considered and changes
were made. The new policy goes into effect on January 6, 2018,
although courts, attorneys and parties are preparing for the
transition now.

"This new policy simplifies and unifies the process by which
the public may access case records in trial and appellate courts
statewide, but it does so while safeguarding the privacy and
safety of citizens," said Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Thomas
G. Saylor in an announcement earlier this year. "It reflects the
judiciary's long commitment to making court records open and
accessible to the public.

"The policy is built upon the principle that court records are
open for inspection by the public while maintaining appropriate
boundaries for the protection of individuals who come into
the court system. In the internet age, courts are mindful of the
24 | Berks Barrister

damage that can be caused to citizens by dissemination of highly
sensitive, private information that may be found in a court file."
The policy provides four different ways of safeguarding
sensitive information:

1. CERTAIN TYPES OF INFORMATION cannot be included
in court filings, but instead must be identified to the court on a
separate form, called a Confidential Information Form (CIF), and
attached to the filing.
* As an alternative to filing that CIF, a court may require
a party to file two versions of every document with the
court - both a redacted (without sensitive information) and
unredacted version (which includes sensitive information).
* Only the redacted version will be available to the public.
* Social Security numbers are an example of information
which falls under this section of the policy.

2. CERTAIN DOCUMENTS must be filed with a Confidential
Document Form (CDF).

* Any document filed with this form will not be accessible to
the public; however, the CDF or a copy of it will be accessible.
* Financial documents are examples of documents falling
under this section of the policy.

3. CERTAIN CASES are not accessible to the public because
there is no method to ensure that all of the sensitive information
contained in the case file can be redacted before permitting public
access.

* This policy adds two types of cases to those already protected
under existing legal authority: cases pertaining to birth records
and cases filed in incapacity proceedings. However, for these
cases, the docket, court orders, and opinions and final decrees
will remain available for public inspection.


http://www.berksbar.org/ http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/

The Barrister Fall 2017

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