This article was corrected to explain that Lynne Finley is not an opponent of re:SearchTX, but actually supported the system after working with officials to address clerks’ concerns with it.
Although it’s been delayed from opposition from court clerks, Texas lawyers now have access to a new online court record system which eventually might resemble the federal courts’ PACER system.
As of Jan. 1, attorneys can search on re:SearchTX for cases in which they’re attorneys of record, finding in one convenient location everything they and opposing counsel have e-filed in the cases. At the same time, court clerks also received access to re:SearchTX.
“We’re real excited about it,” said David Slayton, administrative director of the Texas Office of Court Administration. “Its’ one of the things lawyers have been really begging us for since the day we started talking about the e-filing system.”
The system launched first for judges in June 2016. The process to open re:SearchTX to lawyers, court clerks and the public has taken longer than expected.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court approved recommendations from one of its committees to grant access to clerks and lawyers, but there was a disconnect between authorizing the access and actually opening the site.
Court clerks vehemently opposed re:SearchTX because they believed that counties should decide whether to make court records available online and claimed it’s an unfunded mandate to require clerks to remove confidential information from filings. The Texas Legislature last year even considered two bills—neither one passed—that aimed to defeat re:SearchTX.
“We spent a great deal of time trying to work through the issues with them,” Slayton said, explaining that officials offered redaction software to help clerks protect sensitive information, clarified which users would have access to which types of documents, and noted that re:SearchTX records would be watermarked as unofficial copies.
It also took time to work through technical aspects of exactly how the site would deliver an electronic document: A user requests a record on re:SearchTX; the system retrieves it from a county’s own records system; and finally re:SearchTX delivers it to the user—all in a split second.
Collin County District Clerk Lynne Finley, who worked closely to with Slayton, said that she’s spent countless hours explaining clerks’ concerns with the system, proposing solutions and then training clerks about re:SearchTX.
Slayton noted that for now, lawyers can only access the documents that they or opposing counsel have e-filed.
“We want to be really clear this is not the federal PACER yet because the gaps with orders and judgments not being in there and even pro se filings—things filed over the counter—are not going to be in there,” he said.
But it’s a first step and Slayton said he hopes to see quick progress in getting those extra documents on re:SearchTX.
Court officials at one time thought they’d open re:SearchTX to the public in September 2017, but it still hasn’t happened. The high court’s Judicial Committee on Information Technology for more than a year has been discussing how to ensure that the public won’t be able to access sealed documents, sensitive information in court filings like a credit card number or social security number, and records that might harm victims in sensitive cases like those seeking protective orders.
Another important thing that the committee is researching is how much to charge the public when they get documents from re:SearchTX. Clerks in some Texas counties currently charge up to $1 per page for court documents, with no cap on the charge.
Slayton said where the pricing discussion stands now, documents on re:SearchTX would follow similar pricing as PACER, which charges 10 cents per page but caps the fee at $3 per document. If someone bought a document on re:SearchTX that came from a certain county, the money would go back to that county.
Once the committee issues a recommendation on the public access rules, the Texas Supreme Court would review the rules, possibly make changes, and grant final approval.
When the public gets access to re:SearchTX, lawyers will also get access to any case across the state, rather than just the ones in which they’re attorneys of record.