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The New York state Office of Court Administration (OCA) can not be compelled to hand over its Criminal Records Information Management System, or “CRIMS,” database, to a private publishing company that hoped to sell the information. The state Freedom of Information Law does not apply to OCA when it assists the state judiciary in its adjudicatory functions, concluded Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Stallman. Stallman observed that the party seeking disclosure of the CRIMS records, Daily News Publishing Company of Memphis, Tenn., wanted the data in order to resell it, at a lower price than that offered by OCA, which is authorized to make the data available to the public as a funding mechanism for the courts. In Daily News Publishing Co. v. Office of Court Administration, 115158/00, the publishing company asked Justice Stallman to overrule OCA, which had denied Daily News’ FOIL application for disclosure of the CRIMS database. The database contains electronically stored criminal court case records, which the Daily News intended to sell to interested parties, Stallman said. Two exemptions from FOIL disclosure requirements mean that the database need not be released on demand, the court ruled. First, OCA, while not a court itself, is entitled to be excluded from FOIL obligations as part of the “judiciary” when it acts as a collector of court data, as it is in the case of the CRIMS system. Second, entries in the CRIMS database are “court records” and therefore exempt from disclosure requirements under FOIL. “OCA is not itself a court, but rather the courts’ own support office,” Stallman explained. ADJUDICATORY FUNCTIONS While there is precedent for requiring OCA to make disclosures under FOIL, those disclosures covered administrative functions, such as employee classification and compensation, the court said. Stallman noted a key distinction between OCA’s administrative functions and its duties that are intertwined with adjudicatory functions of the court system. “Case-related data derived from any court-record, however summarized or preserved, wherever located, must be considered adjudicatory and not administrative,” Stallman said. “The type of data sought here does not pertain to budget, personnel or facilities. Rather, the data at issue here — dispositions in criminal cases — derive from the very substance of the criminal courts’ decisional function,” he wrote. The records stored in the CRIMS database are still privileged from FOIL disclosure, even though they are no longer literally court papers, the judge said. “The form of compilation, whether by summary or extrapolation, does not alter the nature of the data or change the character of a court record,” Stallman said. The only distinction between entries in the CRIMS database and court records is their storage in a different medium, he said. Stallman also relied on the State Finance Law in rejecting the publisher’s application. The Finance Law establishes a Judiciary Data Processing Offset Fund, which receives all money paid to OCA for providing criminal records and other data searches. That law, Stallman reasoned, showed a legislative intent that the court system assist in its own funding by selling criminal histories and other data. “[T]he Legislature would not have subverted its own revenue measure by allowing access to the same data via FOIL,” Stallman said. Daily News Publishing’s “attempted use of FOIL is contrary to the clear legislative intent.” Deputy Counsel John Eiseman of OCA handled the case for the New York court system. The firm representing Daily News Publishing Co. was Arkin Schaffer & Kaplan of Manhattan.

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