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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Judiciary responds to question of fees for online access to court documents

August 29th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Judiciary spokesperson, Marsha Kitagawa, responded to Wednesday’s post regarding the cost to the public of digital files from cases before the Intermediate Court of Appeals and the Hawaii Supreme Court (“Reasonable cost for public documents delivered in electronic form?“).

It’s a long response. I’ll walk through my comment on certain points Kitagawa raises, and provide a link to her full response at the end of this post.

1. In response to my statement that the courts do not provide a “suitable area” for the public to review digital records, Kitagawa writes:

“There is a computer dedicated for public use at the Supreme Court Clerk’s office, and at the law libraries in the state courthouses in Hilo and Kona on the Big Island, and on Maui and Kauai. There is no charge to view imaged documents or to use the computer.”

The Hawaii Supreme Court has a tiny area to accommodate requests to view court records. If I recall correctly, there’s a single computer set up for “public” use. Public use, for this purpose, includes attorneys, other researchers, plaintiffs, and so on. It really isn’t conducive to extended public use, note taking, etc. When you are there, you’re just in the way, and it feels like it.

Compare to the federal Bankruptcy Court in downtown Honolulu. They have several terminals set up for viewing digital files, tables where you can set up your laptop for note taking, etc. It works. I’m sorry, but the Judiciary’s provision of single terminals in a few spots statewide may meet the technical requirement for public access, but it’s not really designed to provide public access, if you see the difference I’m talking about.

2. As to the process of proposing and approving the fee structure:

“…as it does with all proposed rules and proposed rule changes, the Hawaii Supreme Court solicited and obtained public comment on the Hawaii Court Record Rules (HCRR) well before the rules became effective in September 2010. And when the Hawaii Supreme Court considered input proposing changes to HCRR, it again solicited public comment before amending the rules in June 2012.”

It’s a little confusing, because there are at least two types of court records, those that originate as paper documents, and those that are filed electronically. The post was specifically referring to those that originate as digital files.

I tracked back to the 2010 request for public comment, which was treated no differently than other court rules that impact attorneys but not the general public.

Here’s the rule as proposed governing access to digital documents from the Judiciary Information Management System.

11.2 Internet Access. The Administrative Director shall provide internet access to the dockets of non-confidential JIMS cases without cost. The Administrative Director may provide internet access to public documents in non-confidential cases by subscription at such rates as shall be determined from time to time by the supreme court. The Administrative Director may provide internet access through a secure network connection to confidential, sealed, or restricted records by subscription to parties and attorneys entitled thereto.

So the rules say the public “shall” get free online access to case dockets. Getting to documents, though, will be subject to fees to be set “from time to time” by the supreme court.

Was there public notice when the court set the fee schedule? A chance for public input on the fee decision?

It would appear that amending the fee schedule is up to the supremes.

3. Kitagawa confirmed that several people can share a single subscription to the Judiary’s document system.

“A $500 annual subscription may prove cost effective for a law firm or news organization whose employees (i.e. lawyers and paralegals or reporters and editors, respectively) have an ongoing need to access case documents.”

That’s good news. If you would like to join a reporter/blogger hui to share a subscription, email me and we can explore how the logistics of this might work.

4. Kitagawa went further to describe additional documents now available online, and more “in the works.”

“You may be pleased to know that appellate documents are not the only case documents available in eCourt Kokua. Imaged documents in misdemeanor cases filed in the statewide District Court have been available for downloading and viewing since August 2012. The Circuit Court criminal, or felony, module is currently in the works. It will be followed by Circuit and District Court civil cases. Family court cases will be the last case type to be incorporated into our case management system, and when it is, all case documents will be accessible via eCourt Kokua.”

Yes, the addition of online access to Circuit and District Court civil cases will make the current subscription rate reasonable, at least in my view.

Perhaps some consideration should be given to free public access to a certain number of documents, as well as changing to a “10 cents a page, up to a maximum of $3″ per document, the same as the current PACER system for federal documents.

You can read Kitagawa’s full response here.

Share your other suggestions and reactions, please!

→ 1 CommentTags: Court · Sunshine

Feline Friday: Another month goes by–How long is that in cat time?

August 29th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Mr. RomeoIt’s Feline Friday once again. How quickly these weeks fly by. Today Mr. Romeo gets to greet you.

He managed to find a new spot to sleep this week. One afternoon I couldn’t find him in his regular places, so I went looking. Found him in one of our rooms devoted mostly to storage. He found spot on a box with a little bit of sun from a window just above him. He was asleep when I found him, although the camera woke him up. It’s a totally relaxing spot, apparently.

And that’s good, because Romeo gets fussy when he wants to go outside and I don’t let him. Want an example? Take a listen to his fussing at the door this morning. And that doesn’t count the claws in my leg. Nothing vicious, just his little reminder. “Don’t forget that I’m down here, and I want to go out!”

Sorry, Romeo. He’s been back on restriction since the incident about 10 days or so ago when he went out, disappeared from the yard for too long, and came back with a bloody scratch behind his ear. I’m sure he went looking for Lumber, the cat who occasionally comes through our yard and has been involved in too many scraps with Romeo. Lumber is a young cat. Romeo isn’t. I wish he would admit that he’s probably past prime fighting age. But he doesn’t listen.

Meanwhile, I think all the cats make at least one appearance in today’s photo gallery.

–> See all of today’s Friday Felines!

→ 1 CommentTags: Cats · Photographs

Throwback Thursday v2: Back to the Mortimer years and faculty workload

August 28th, 2014 · 8 Comments

The ghost of workload fights pastThe hidden agenda in the hiring freeze and budget cuts hitting the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus appears to involve faculty workload.

It started with soon-to-be-former Chancellor Tom Apple’s comment that Manoa is “faculty rich,” with a very low student-faculty ration, which he said was 11-1.

The prospect of another messy battle over workload prompted Meda to break out her Ken Mortimer mask.

These are probably real collectors items by now.

Ken Mortimer was UH president from 1993 to 2001. It was a bad economic time for the state and for the UH budget. It was at the end of his tenure that members of the faculty union went on strike for two weeks over issues of faculty pay and workload.

Meda and a colleague wrote a column in about 1996 explaining the workload issue. It stands up pretty well today. You can read it here.

And it turns out, upon closer examination, Apple’s claim of an 11-1 student-faculty ratio does not appear to be correct.

I’ve heard that a recent analysis of Manoa faculty by another top UH administrator found that of 1,619 total “faculty” , 304 are specialists, librarians or extension agents whose jobs do not include teaching classes. Another 239 are full or half-time researchers, who again do not teach as part of their research duties. Instructional full-time equivalents total 1,076, or just two-thirds of total “faculty.”

With 20,006 undergrad and grad students, student faculty ratios actually range from 18.6, when only instructional faculty are counted, to 12.4 if you also count non-teaching faculty in all job classifications.

The important thing to remember here is that lower student-faculty ratios are widely considered signs of educational quality. US News and World Reports, for example, uses these data every year to rank universities, and those with lower ratios are given better evaluations.

Top universities, places like Harvard (1:7) and Stanford (1:5), make much of these low ratios as evidence of teaching quality and a quality student experience.

Other public research universities, comparable to UH, include University of Washington (at 12:1) and University of Michigan (16:1).

→ 8 CommentsTags: Education · Politics

Throwback Thursday: Portland, Oregon, August 17, 1969

August 28th, 2014 · 1 Comment

It’s hard to forget this day.

Two days earlier, on August 15, 1969, Meda and I were married by Judge Sidney Feinberg in his chambers in the Santa Clara County Municipal Court in Palo Alto. The next morning, we packed all our possessions into her 1963 Dodge Dart, picked up our friend John Markoff, and got on the road heading north. We arrived in Portland that night after dropping John off at his destination along the way.

And then it was my birthday. We celebrated in the dining area of the Chesney home in Northeast Portland. Note the birthday cake and presents. From left to right: That’s me, over on the far left as you look at the photo. Then Mae Chesney, Meda’s youngest sister, now dance and fitness program supervisor for the San Mateo Dept. of Parks and Recreation; Ms. Meda, the oldest sister; Margaret Ann Chesney, now director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California San Francisco; their mother, Margaret Renton Chesney; and Meda’s brother, Bob Chesney, an engineer still living in Portland.


→ 1 CommentTags: History · Photographs

Reasonable cost for public documents delivered in electronic form?

August 27th, 2014 · 8 Comments

What’s a reasonable charge for copies of public records delivered as digital pdf files?

And when those files originated in digital form, rather than as paper documents that need to be scanned, should that be reflected in the price the public is asked to pay?

These questions are what came to mind when I belatedly realized digital copies of documents filed in lawsuits before the state’s Intermediate Court of Appeals and Supreme Court are publicly available online.

The documents are now available as pdf files through the Judiciary’s eCourt Kokua system.

For reporters, publicly available document systems like this can prove to be a goldmine of information. I’ve used the federal PACER system (public access to court electronic records) for years.

Not all public documents are available online through eCourt Kokua and most traffic documents are only available at the courthouse. If there is no pdf icon displayed next to the docket entry, the document is only be available at the courthouse. If there is a pdf icon displayed next to the docket entry in eCourt Kokua, this document is available online for single document purchase or via subscription. However, documents with a pdf icon may not be available the same day IMMEDIATELY after purchase due to delays in document processing.

Public documents with a pdf icon may be purchased through eCourt Kokua. Individual documents are available for $3.00 per document or 10 cents per page, whichever sum is greater.

Subscriptions are available for $125.00 per quarter or $500.00 per year. A subscription entitles the subscriber to unlimited single downloads of public documents with a pdf icon during the term of the subscription.

Do not subscribe unless you are sure you want the subscription. Your money will not be refunded.

In the PACER system, the public pays 10 cents per page, or $3 per document, whichever is less.

The Judiciary has turned this around with its charge of 10 cents per page, or $3 per document, whichever is more.

Keep in mind that attorneys must submit their documents to the court as pdf files. So most of those files don’t need to be scanned, which is what in the past required additional time and effort.

One could, I suppose, argue that electronic documents should be available for viewing online without charge, especially since the Supreme Court and Appeals Court don’t really provide a suitable area for the public or press to review case files without charge.

I don’t recall any public discussion of the Judiary’s document fees, although this could have happened.

And I haven’t started checking how much other jurisdictions charge.

Nor have I checked to see whether the eCourt Kokua terms of use would technically prevent several people from sharing a single subscription.

Your thoughts on charges for public documents in electronic form?

→ 8 CommentsTags: Court · Media · Sunshine