An electronic-filing proposal that would jeopardize public access to court records in Georgia has found new life. The proposal died in a legislative conference committee last year, but it now has been added to the governor’s criminal justice reform bill and could be voted on by lawmakers as soon as Tuesday.
As it stands, the e-filing proposal — which was introduced as House Bill 15 and now is embedded into Senate Bill 407 — would substantially delay public access to electronically filed court records. That’s because it requires access upon “physical acceptance” by clerks, rather than immediately upon filing, which is current law.
“In the most technologically advanced courts, this change to the acceptance standard would regularly delay public access for days. In less efficient courts, the delay would be much longer. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation believes such delays violate the federal Constitution, and a recent decision in a federal court in Chicago supports our opinion,” said Richard T. Griffiths, president of the foundation’s board of directors.
The problems with the bill would be relatively simple to fix. The foundation has suggested changes that would better align with the rights Georgians currently have to view court records as soon as they are filed.
“The e-filing provision must be carefully considered and improved to ensure timely access to court records,” Griffiths said. “This is a pretty easy fix. We urge lawmakers to make sure the public’s right to know does not fall victim to the General Assembly’s end-of-session rush.”
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