A task force created by the Indiana Supreme Court to look into remote access and privacy of electronic records decided appellate court briefs filed by attorneys would be put online at mycase.in.gov beginning April 1.
The task force met for the first time Friday after being created by a Supreme Court order Feb. 3. The 21-member task force met for more than two hours and talked about access concerns, what to do if there are mistakes in the brief after it’s filed, and what electronic access means in general.
Appellate briefs filed before April 1 would not be available right away on April 1, but any appellate brief filed after April 1 would be. Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush thought talking about putting appellate briefs online would be “low-hanging fruit,” but the discussion about it became much more involved than she or any of the task members originally thought.
There were two main points of discussion in the meeting. The first was if there should be a waiting period before the briefs are put online; and if all briefs should be put online, or just those filed by attorneys and not those filed pro se.
There was also a side discussion about whether to include all of the briefs online, or to leave out the appendices and agenda. It was decided that at least at first, the appendices revealed too much and it would be better to leave it out until a better system could be put in place to have those online.
Task force members were concerned there would be mistakes in briefs that went online right away and would not be caught, therefore potentially damaging clients’ privacy and reputation. There was a lot of discussion about how to fix this, and a delay in putting briefs online was suggested. That way, attorneys and clerks would have time to read briefs before they went public and made sure they were correct.
Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director and General Counsel Steve Key suggested seven days as a delay, but as members talked about it more, they decided the seven-day delay wouldn’t do much good. Many attorneys may not get to checking their briefs within seven days, and some mistakes may not get caught.
There was also the question of what to do when a mistake was caught. Judge Paul Mathias of the Indiana Court of Appeals said the procedure of what to do when a mistake was caught, and what to release and not to release, could cause a whole new set of motions and procedures he and his fellow judges would not want to deal with. Informational hearings may need to be held, which would slow things down even more.
The task force eventually decided that instead of trying to iron out a consistent process where information could be checked and changed to just put briefs online if they were written by lawyers, because they should know what’s pertinent and private and should be held responsible for that. However, pro se litigants cannot be held to that same level of responsibility.
The discussion then moved to having a delay on just pro se briefs while putting everything else online, but the task force decided that would be too complicated. Instead of trying to correct pro se briefs and checking them without a consistent system in place, members decided it would be better to keep pro se briefs offline until a system could be developed to check them.
The task force was created because when briefs are put online, more people will have easier access to them than before. When briefs are not online, courts work under “practical obscurity,” meaning although some documents are public, people had to make the effort to go the courthouse and ask for the file, making it harder for them to access. Online access takes that away and puts it at people’s fingertips.
The group will next meet at noon April 8 in the Indiana Government Center to talk about posting appellate pleadings and motions online.