June 21, 2006
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION CONCERNING ACCESS TO COURT RECORDS
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked for a summary of Collins v. Clerk, GA #7; State of Connecticut, Judicial Branch (FIC 2002-076).
On November 11, 2003, the Freedom of Information Commission unanimously held that the Judicial Branch's records of pending cases are administrative records that are subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
The commission ordered the respondents (the Superior Court at GA #7) in Collins v. Clerk, GA #7; State of Connecticut, Judicial Branch to permit Attorney Russell Collins (complainant) to periodically review its records of pending cases. Collins had asked to inspect the court's pending book and daybooks for a specified period and any other records that would identify pending cases in the pre-arraignment phase of prosecution.
The commission stayed the order for 90 days to allow the respondents time to develop procedures that would protect confidential information from public disclosure and establish a periodic inspection table.
The respondents appealed the decision to the Superior Court. It was later decided by the state Supreme Court. We summarized the state Supreme Court's decision in OLR Report 2006-R-0315.
COLLINS V. CLERK, GA #7; STATE OF CONNECTICUT, JUDICIAL BRANCH
On February 19, 2002, the complainant filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission alleging that the respondents violated the FOIA by not allowing him to inspect the court's pending book and daybooks for a specified period and any other records that would identify pending cases in the pre-arraignment phase of prosecution.
The Freedom of Information Commission found that the information the complainant sought was available from the following four sources under the Judicial Branch's control and available to court clerks:
1. the pending book, which is a computer printout of all cases pending at a given court location;
2. daybooks, which is a paper log of all cases received by a given court created by court clerks;
3. the Access database; and
4. the Criminal/Motor Vehicle Computer System (CRMVS), which is a continually updated computer system.
The complainant argued that the requested records concerned the “administrative functions” of a judicial office, were not otherwise exempt, and thus were public records subject to disclosure under the FOIA. FOIA requires that records a public agency maintains be disclosed to the public unless a federal law or another state law requires that they be treated confidentially (CGS § 1-210). FOIA defines “public record” as any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, received, or retained by a public agency. It defines “public agency” to include most agencies of the state and its political subdivision. However, it applies to Judicial Branch agencies only with respect to their administrative functions (CGS § 1-200). FOIA does not define “administrative function.”
The respondents argued that the requested records concerned “adjudicative functions” of a judicial office and therefore were beyond the jurisdiction of the FOIA. They also argued that disclosing the records would interfere with the court's judicial functions.
The commission looked to three court cases for guidance defining “administrative functions” of a judicial office as that term is used in CGS § 1-200 (1)(A). These cases are Rules Committee of the Superior Court v. Freedom of Information Commission, 192 Conn. 234 (1984); Ct. Bar Examining Committee v. Freedom of Information Commission, 209 Conn. 204 (1988); and Fromer v. Freedom of Information Commission, 36 Conn. App. 155 (1994).
Applying the holdings in these cases to the facts of the present case, the commission found that the respondents violated the FOIA by failing to allow the complainant to inspect the requested records as maintained on the CRMVS, which the commission concluded to be a legally administrative record even though it serves administrative and adjudicative functions.
The commission recognized the respondents' difficulty in immediately complying with the complainant's request. It found that the respondents “would have to check each file in the CRMVS in order to redact newly exempt information concerning juveniles, sealed records, and erased records from the pending book and daybooks.” It further found that Judicial could develop new administrative procedures that would guarantee the timely entry of new data regarding exempt records into the CRMVS and thus allow for periodic public record inspections. Citing CGS § 1-211, the commission stated that a public agency must provide data from a computer system “if the agency can reasonably make such a copy or have such a copy made.”
In consideration of the respondents' present ability to comply with the complainant's request, the commission ordered the respondents to periodically allow the complainant to inspect the records of the CRMVS but stayed the order for 90 days to allow the respondents time to implement necessary procedures.