In the ongoing effort to improve access to the courts, the Judicial Branch has expanded the types of files that are available online to include virtually all documents filed in civil cases.
That means starting Jan. 1, lawyers or anyone else with computer access will be able to go to the Judicial Branch website and view or print complaints, motions and pleadings from the comfort of their homes.
There will be no charge for the service, Judicial Branch officials said.
“Electronic filing has existed for a good long time, and we have made judges’ orders in civil cases available on our website since 2009,” said Robert Palmer, deputy director for civil matters. “We’ve had an interest in making records as accessible as possible, so we worked expand this service.”
P.J. Deak, who is deputy director of technology and web-based case management for civil matters, said a focus group was created three years ago to look into the idea of expanding online access to include all filed civil court documents in an estimated 60,000 lawsuits and other matters filed each year.
With the help of the focus group, court administrators identified what technology would be needed and what concerns there might be about making all filed civil records public.
“All of the information was stored in the same place electronically, on the same server, so it was relatively easy to create a public access on the website,” he explained. “We’re very fortunate that all of our website software was created by our own technology department, so allowing records to be made public on the website is a relatively easy process.”
Once approval for the access was granted by the technology committee, it took several months for an interface to be created by computer programmers who work for the Judicial Branch.
The way it works is this. When a motion or request for court action is filed in a civil case, the clerk of court scans the document into the Judicial Branch computer system. It is automatically uploaded onto the Judicial Branch website and becomes part of the official record.
Records that won’t be available include those with Social Security numbers or items that have been ordered non-public by a judge or statute. Certain medical records, for instance, will not be uploaded onto the website.
Palmer said the idea was to make state’s Superior Court records as open as possible. “I would say as a society, we’ve seen a tremendous move toward allowing access at any day of time or day,” she said. “This will allow attorneys, and anyone else for that matter, to look at any case that interests them, even in the middle of the night.”
The online access will be for civil matters only. There are no plans to include criminal or family court case files anytime soon.
In expanding public access to civil court files on the Internet, Palmer said there was some concern that jurors might try to access court records during a trial, which would be a violation of court rules and could lead to mistrials.
To address that concern, administrators have created a function which will prevent public access to records of any case once jury selection begins. However, access to that case’s records will still be permitted at any clerk of court location, or by lawyers or court personnel using court-provided computers in law libraries and at clerk’s offices in courthouses.
“It was important for us to avoid any problems during trials,” Palmer said. “At the same time, if someone wants to get information about a case, or to see a document, they will still be able to do that during a trial.”
Documents in some cases that have answer dates after Jan 1 are already available through the Judicial Branch website. The web address is www.jud.ct.gov/jud2.htm.