This afternoon, the Minnesota Supreme Court announced new rules that will put vast amounts of its records online, opening up state courts to the digital age. The high court also chose to preserve public access to child protection records, rejecting a recommendation to seal the records to protect childrens' privacy.
In January, I wrote about how the proposal to make these records secret would hide the very documents that Star Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl used to reveal systemic problems with Minnesota's child protection system.
The recommendation to seal the records - guardian ad litem reports and social worker reports - came last fall from a group of judges, government lawyers, court staff, family law attorneys and others commissioned by the Minnesota Supreme Court to evaluate access to juvenile court records.
In its order Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court acknowledged the concerns of those who called for sealing off these records, but said: "We recognize that the concerns to be balanced here are weighty. But we conclude that the correct balance is struck by retaining public access to the records that shed light on the steps taken by the State to protect the State’s children."
Set to take effect July 1, the new rules opening remote access to court records are a major step forward for transparency, although the changes won't be immediate. As the court wrote: "The judicial branch’s move to an electronic-information environment—a move that began in 2012 and is scheduled to expand statewide within the next 12 to 18 months—requires changes in the procedures for identifying and accessing court records to ensure valid privacy interests are preserved in that environment without diminishing the commitment to public access."