Amended e-filing bill threatens access to court records

An amended e-filing bill continues to jeopardize public access to court records in Georgia.

As it stands, House Bill 15 would give court clerks extraordinary power to delay the public’s access to electronically filed court records and impose burdensome fees for viewing them.

Under the proposed legislation, e-filed court documents would not be subject to public access until they are processed and officially “accepted” by a state or superior court clerk. That means citizens may not be able to view many court records until days after they are filed. In addition, the bill places no limit on what clerks could charge the public to access the records.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee, which met March 16, amended the bill to prevent government entities, including court clerks, from obtaining any portion of e-filing fees. But it’s still possible for clerks to implement fees to the public to view electronically filed court records at the courthouse —something that would be unprecedented in Georgia.

HB15 does not mandate electronically filed records be available for immediate viewing at courthouses. That would be a departure from existing judicial rules, which require a public terminal for free viewing at the courthouse as a minimum standard for electronic filing.

In a recent letter to committee members, foundation Executive Director Hollie Manheimer detailed ways HB15 could be amended to maintain existing protections for free and immediate public access to court filings at the courthouse. The foundation will continue to encourage lawmakers to maintain these traditional public access protections as the bill moves through the General Assembly.

The legislative session is scheduled to come to a close at the end of March.