- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas court clerks oppose a state proposal that would provide easy public access to court documents by making them available online.

The statewide database, re:SearchTX, contains records from all 254 counties and is supported by the state’s Supreme Court, the Austin American-Statesman (https://atxne.ws/2kL6EtJ ) reported.

Court clerks said surrendering records to a privately operated database would strip them of their constitutional authority. Clerks also said their departments will lose money without the public paying a printing fee of $1 a page at a courthouse for documents. They hope a new bill introduced by Republican State Rep. Travis Clardy will stop the new system.

Clardy said maintaining privacy for documents that contain sensitive information such as Social Security numbers and record expungements could be problematic.

“Clerks want assurance if those records are used by a private enterprise they are handled appropriately,” Clardy said.

However, their opponents said the new system is set up so clerks would benefit from online users. They also argued that taxpayers own the records, not clerks.

“I don’t see how it violates their rights as custodians,” said Joseph Larsen, a Houston-based First Amendment attorney who is on the board of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “

Currently, only civil court documents, which are limited to exclude family cases such as divorce and child custody, are accessible through the database.

David Slayton, the administrative director of the Office of Court Administration, said criminal court documents might also be added to the database. He said the database is convenient for people to acquire documents more quickly.

“They are the most public records that government has,” Slayton said. “They are open for public inspection.”

The service will be covered by an $18 million e-filing fee the state pays a third-party vendor, and will not cost the state additional money.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, https://www.statesman.com

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