North Dakota Courts Should Approve Mandate for Online Access to Records


I support a new rule proposed for the North Dakota court system which would require that public records be available to the public for online access.

You should too.

The state Supreme Court is currently accepting public comment on a new rule, to be called Administrative Rule 41, which among other things would mandate the aforementioned access.

You can read the proposed rule here. If you’d like to weigh in on the rule, here’s how you do it:

“Their suggestion was to eliminate any practical obscurity,” Justice Jon Jensen, chair of the Court Services Administration Committee, told the Bismarck Tribune of the proposed rule. “In other words, people shouldn’t have to go to the courthouse to view records in 2018. Everyone should be able to access those records.”

He’s right. These records are public by law (with a some exceptions), but can we really say they’re accessible if the public must travel to court houses and work with court house staff to view them? Maybe in another time, but not in 2018.

Anyone who has spent any time accessing court records in North Dakota – and I’ve spent years doing it, both in my decade of work as a private investigator and today as a member of the media – knows there is a hodgepodge of records policies which vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Organizing public record access under a single statewide policy which also mandates online access makes sense.

There are some practical considerations, too. I know many times I’ve had to take up the time of court clerks with requests for records. I would wager that these clerks – who are almost always prompt and helpful, in my experience – spend a lot of their time handling records requests from people like me. But if the records were available online, these clerks could focus their work elsewhere.

Perhaps saving taxpayers some money in the long run.

Kudos to the courts for developing this proposed rule. Now let’s hope they follow through and pass it.