Broward Clerk of Courts Scrambling to Comply With New Florida Public-Records Laws

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Howard Forman, who now has to pay people to hide information from you.
For members of the public (including the news media), getting court files from the Broward County Clerk of Courts has been a somewhat arduous process in recent years. The clerk's offices are crowded and short-staffed, and members of the public need to awkwardly sign in on a clipboard while an overworked employee reads the clipboard upside-down to see what case files are needed, then shuttles back and forth to get old records delivered from an off-site warehouse in three to five days.

In recent years, the process got worse, as the state government cut clerks' budgets and staff was further reduced. Still, there was a bright side: If a court file was present in the building, you could look at it right away.

That has all changed now, as new Florida laws require the clerk to redact personal information from any file before it's handed over. Now, it takes a week to see files that are already there. And behind the scenes, the clerk's office is struggling to keep up with requests and with the new law.  Several years ago, according to Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman, the state Legislature passed new rules requiring court files to be redacted before viewing, scrubbing out information like phone and social security numbers. Many other public records were already subject to such redactions.

"They kept delaying the implementation, and in the 2011 session, they said it would take effect as of January 1, 2012," says Forman. "Some of us were more eager to see it coming than others, but the underlying issue is identity theft."

Iris Siple, an administrator in Forman's office, says that some people still have full access. "If you are the attorney of record, you'll be able to see the nonredacted file. We're going to continue to allow parties to the case to see the nonredacted files."

Siple says the clerk's office is in the process of implementing a computer system that will someday provide digitized versions of court files -- and take care of redaction automatically. As it stands, once a file is redacted, workers place a green sheet of paper at the top. When new documents are added to the file, they go on top of the green sheet, until they are requested and, subsequently, redacted. The process currently takes days.

Siple says there's a staff of 20 to 22 people in a building across the street from the courthouse, temporary workers hired by the already cash-strapped department to comply with the new laws. "That's what they do all day long," she says, "copy and redact."

Overall, Forman is optimistic. "It's one big strike against the realm of identity theft," he says. "As we march down the road of going paperless, this is going to get easier."

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3 comments
just another victim
just another victim

Hey give Forman a break,,After all it only took his office 22 years to send me a bill for $20. for irresponsibly getting beat up by a Davie goon squad in 1989, got the bill on Saturday and you can bet on Monday morning it will cost them over $150. to pay the pea-brained affirmative action employee in his office to explain why.

Transparent resident
Transparent resident

I will say that it is ridiculous to have to pay $50 dollars to view case file details for more than one case.  And the case detail provides little, um whats the word, oh yeah, detail.I wanted to view 3 cases last month and had to pony up $50 bucks which is outrageous.$5 bucks for one might be reasonable but $50 for more than a couple in a 30 day period is not in keepeing with the Sunshine for reasonable costs and should not be so expensive in this digital age.This is no slight on Forman but rather the antiquated system that needs to be updated.

City Activist Robert Walsh
City Activist Robert Walsh

Ah,finally, you state Mr.Foreman that you don't have enough staff, etc, budget cuts. How about these people that file these stupid,frivoulous, restraining orders. The money it cost the staff to examine these allegations, to the deputies who have to hand deliver these injunctions(tempory) to go to court to have the plantiff(victim-joke) to then not show up, and blow off the final injunction. But they are so scared, etc. Baloney-start imposing a fee,fine what have you. This is costing you thousands of wasteful spending. Case in point this just happened to me last month, and now next month I have to go through the same "bs" next month. I mean I know some of these restraining orders have merit, but you know as well as I do 90% are 'BS"and are used as a retalitory measure. Enough is enough,but yet people are waiting endlessly for documents that you must provide by law. Enough.

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