The headline above is a reworking of a line from Augustine’s "Confessions" that succinctly summarizes a regretful roué’s desire (and reluctance) to give up a life of vice: “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Change two words and you capture the attitude of some judges toward online access to court records.
They like the idea and they’re all for it, but they’re not quite ready to give it a go. Not because of any deficiencies of their own, mind you, or for any personal reasons.
“The concern that I have is on privacy and confidentiality of statutorily protected documents and how that information gets into court files,” asserts Kanawha Circuit Judge Todd Kaufman. “Identify theft is a concern. And, kids are involved in some of these cases.”
Why is it, then, that other circuit courts can put their records online?
“We’re so different than other counties because of the volume of the cases we have,” Kaufman explains. “Certain cases regarding state agencies have to be filed here. It’s more complex and complicated. What we do in Kanawha County is different.”
Why is it, then, that some of his fellow Kanawha Circuit Court justices also allow online access to documents in the cases they preside over?
Two weeks ago, Chief Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit signed an administrative order providing that “respective judges of this circuit may, at their discretion, allow electronic access via Circuit Express to public court records in cases assigned to them.” Along with Tabit, Carrie Webster and Tera Salango also elected to take advantage of the opportunity to be more transparent and accountable to the public.
“The public, litigants, counsel, and subscribers shall still have access to public records, in person, at the Office of the Circuit Clerk of Kanawha County,” Tabit notes in her order.
“And, by the end of 2021, everyone will have electronic filing via the statewide system that is supposed to be operational by then.”
That gives Kaufman and other holdouts a little over a year to get ready.