- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2012

The names of people who file for peace or protective orders will be removed from and no longer included in online Maryland court records, a move that victims’ rights advocates support.

They say it will protect the privacy of petitioners who are often victims.

“These are people who have already been victims of crime, and we should not revictimize them by exposing them to the public,” said Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center.

In the coming weeks, the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts will use a computer algorithm to remove petitioners’ names from all online filings in temporary, interim, final and permanent protective and peace orders, Deputy State Court Administrator Faye Matthews said.

Thousands of people apply for such orders every year in Maryland. The orders can be accessed through the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website, which allows users to look up criminal and civil court cases online. A total of 24,694 domestic violence cases and an additional 19,036 peace orders were filed in district courts across Maryland in fiscal year 2011, according to the Maryland Judiciary. An order typically lists the person who sought it as well as the person against whom the order was filed, and in many cases inadvertently puts the private lives of families or couples on display for those who know where to look.

“Unfortunately, in the interim there have been a lot of victims whose privacy and safety may have been compromised,” Mr. Butler said.

The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention announced the decision to shield petitioners’ names last month. Officials said that going forward, the names of petitioners will be scrubbed from previously filed orders and would be excluded from new filings.

“The online access is the only thing that is going to be redacted,” said crime control office spokesman Bill Toohey, explaining that names still would be listed in the paper case files.

The removal of the names follows up on a ruling ordering the courts to keep the names of victims out of online filings. The courts have tried to implement previous technology to shield the names of petitioners from public view, but getting it to work across nine separate case management systems was a challenge, Ms. Matthews said.

“We had applied what we thought was the right technology and it was pretty successful, but there were some things that had not been done,” she said.

In the meantime, petitioners and crime victims have been able to ask the courts to remove their names or other identifying information from online case entries on a case-by-case basis, Mr. Butler and Ms. Matthews said.

“A lot of times, it was easily resolved,” Mr. Butler said.