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Court amends public accessibility, other rules

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The Indiana Supreme Court has revised its administrative and appellate rules governing how trial courts make records publicly accessible and how appeals are handled in certain cases requiring confidentiality.

Orders dated Oct. 6 dictate access to court records and says trial courts may manage access to audio and video recordings of its proceedings to the extent that may be deemed appropriate and not interfering with court operations. Justices reached a decision on the issue late last week during a weekly conference.

When a trial judge seals a portion or entire case, that decision carries over to the appellate courts unless the appellate court decides otherwise.

At the appellate level, the clerk is required in certain confidentially bound cases - such as juvenile, paternity, and termination of parental right cases - to make the appellate chronological case summary publicly accessible but is able to change the party names "in a matter reasonably calculated to provide anonymity and privacy."

That confidentially extends to appellate arguments and hearings, where attorneys will refer to the case and parties as identified on the record and not be able to disclose anything excluded from public access.

In studying this issue during the past year, the Indiana Supreme Court's Records Management Committee had originally discussed the possibility of creating a second docket that would be publicly accessible in order to shield the parties, as well as the attorneys involved in the case. That is not happening, according to the court order and the committee's chair, Justice Brent Dickson.

"This doesn't attempt to create a formula," Justice Dickson said. "It's basically an operational call by the clerk, and the clerk is to come up with what they find appropriate for designations to meet the rule and comply with statutory obligations."

In the order, the court also amended its rule regarding court record security and added commentary that includes examples of what judges can do to ensure recordings aren't altered.

"The court is required to preserve the integrity of audio and video recordings of court proceedings," the rule states, adding that options include supervised playback for listening or copying, creating a copy of the record for use during playback, and notifying the involved parties about the accessed record.

Rule revisions take effect Jan. 1, 2009. Both the appellate rule order and the administrative rules order can be found listed on the state judiciary's website.

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