Proposed Changes to GR 15 (draft dated 7/14/00)
Ellen Nolan, representing the Department of Social and Health Services/Division of Child Support, indicated DSHS wanted to work on the issue of removing the social security number from the face of the family case petitions. Her concern was the need to stay in compliance with federal child support enforcement requirements. She suggested moving the social security number to an order. Mark Weiss thought the federal child support legislation only required the information be placed in records relating to the divorce decree, support order or paternity determination. He also pointed out that this did not completely solve the problem because social security numbers and other personal financial information are found throughout the court file.
Ms. Woods suggested treating family cases like paternity cases where the court file is closed until the final order is entered. Judge Donohue suggested the need to separate records that are of public interest versus social file information, an approach similar to the Juvenile case model. Judge Wynne supported the original approach that was set forth in the proposed GR15 rules changes that were sent to the Supreme Court Rules Committee. The question was raised about how much information needed to be shared with the public and what categories should be segregated from public access-ie. financial, social, service portion.
Judge Stilz commented that the proposed rule needs to be streamlined and designed to make it easier for the clerks. Judge Grosse pointed out that the proposed rule needs to be consistently applied. Ms. Woods was concerned about working with the pro se population.
Mr. Thompson referred back to the newspapers' position on financial information being protected but disagreed with protecting the social related documents because of potential embarrassment. He commented that the courts have a responsibility to protect the parties from crime but not to protect them from embarrassment. He felt that court records should stay open to the public not only to monitor the performance of the judges but also the attorneys.
Mr. Weiss pointed out that many confidential items need to be in the court records for court purposes but a mechanism to keep private personal information away from general public access should be developed. Judge Donohue explained that court records contain all kinds of accusations, some of which are unsubstantiated. Judge Stilz talked about the school children internet situation and asked how far do we need to go to protect the children from embarrassment. Judge Heller pointed out that some of the information might be embarrassing when only available over counter or public access terminals. Judge Gross pointed out that historically these items were not in the court file.
It was suggested that documents be reviewed by a judge prior to being accessible to the public. A judge could determine what documents appropriately belonged in the public court file.
Ms. Woods pointed out that the clerks cannot control what is filed but the court can control pattern forms and what documents are sealed or not sealed. She suggested someone needs to work on the pattern forms. Judge Wynne indicated the pattern forms committee is willing to work with the subcommittee. Judge Grosse indicated that this last suggestion only dealt with social security number issue and did not fulfill the Supreme Court requirements.
Ms. Wood suggested that some other group should deal with this rule change because the proposals impact many different groups. Judge Grosse, from the JIS standpoint, summarized the position that JIS maintain an index in family law matters and local clerks determine how and what court record information will be available electronically. He recommended that the content of family law court records, how they are maintained, and information available to the public should be reviewed by some other committee or organization such as the BJA, WSBA, one of the judicial associations. He suggested that the current proposed GR 15 changes before the Supreme Court Rules Committee should stay tabled. The subcommittee discussed the recommendations and agreed to them.