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An Ohio controversy that pits a newspaper editor against a judge who wants to keep her divorce proceedings out of the public eye illustrates a national tug of war over the openness of court records. In an extra twist, the judge, Paulette Lilly, sits on the Lorain County Domestic Relations Court, and Douglas Clifton, editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, both serve on the privacy subcommittee of the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Technology and the Courts. The subcommittee was formed primarily to address concerns about the posting of court files on the Internet. It broadened its scope to consider whether some information currently kept in hard-copy files-such as Social Security and credit card numbers, psychological profiles and family financial information-should be off limits to the public, Lilly said. On Jan. 11, the Lorain Morning Journal reported that Lilly’s colleague on the Lorain County Domestic Relations Court, Judge David Basinski, sealed the record of Lilly’s divorce proceedings at her request last May. The Morning Journal quoted Clifton as saying, “That strikes me as a conflict of interest.” Lilly declined to discuss Clifton’s accusation or the sealing of her divorce proceedings with The National Law Journal. She told the Morning Journal that public access to information about her finances and children would leave her vulnerable to retaliation by juvenile court defendants. Clifton told The National Law Journal that Lilly, who is co-chairwoman of the subcommittee, often took the lead in advocating greater restrictions on private information. “I thought that was just her worldview, but this puts things in a different light,” he said. “It strikes me as unseemly to get a fellow judge to seal a proceeding.” Germane records Clifton argued that Lilly’s divorce proceedings are of legitimate interest to the public, since the way she conducts her private life may be germane to her judicial temperament. Similarly, Clifton worries that many of the subcommittee’s votes-such as to keep juvenile delinquency proceedings confidential-would hamper the press and public from learning pertinent information, such as whether judges are handing down appropriate sentences. Clifton acknowledged, however, that the votes on the 18-member committee are often so lopsidedly opposed to his position that Lilly’s presence is not the decisive factor. The Maryland Judiciary’s Committee on Access to Court Records surveyed national trends in 2001. “Most states commented that technical and financial barriers prevented open electronic access to court records, not privacy concerns,” it reported. The Canadian Judicial Council did a similar survey of the U.S. scene last year and said that at least 20 states had adopted some form of electronic filing and that many courts made available images of court pleadings and papers. “The breadth of retrieval of information is astonishing,” the committee said. Technical and financial barriers still shape what courts make available. Many experts argue that Internet files, which are easily accessed, should be subject to greater restrictions than hard-copy files, which require a trip to the courthouse. The cost and complexity of setting up two review procedures has led some court administrators to favor a unified system. Thus the Internet may actually result in less public access to some information. Young’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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