San Luis Obispo Court restricts public records access

From BRB Publications newsletter:

Per PRRN Member Judith Smith, the Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court – Ms. Susan Matherly – has simply had enough. Ms. Matherly has had it with all the public record search firms hired by employers to check criminal records of local residents that apply for jobs. On March 14th she announced at a local Bar Association luncheon that she was shutting down the public access terminal to background screening firms. And on Monday March 19th she did it. TheIT staff removed the public access computer and put it in a locked room to be accessible only by attorneys and their investigators.

To better understand Ms. Matherly’s logic, consider the following summarized statements she also made at the March 14th luncheon, as reported by Ms. Smith:

* Public access information was never intended for background screeners. Background screening companies just make people not get hired.
* Employers shouldn’t be using background screening companies, but rather should be using the DOJ/LiveScan [the FBI].
* There are penal codes stating that the type of research that background screening researchers are doing is illegal. [But she refused to mention what these laws are.] * Background screening companies and researchers are not trained to know what they are doing.

There is no identifying information in the computer to know if a researcher has identified the correct person. [Note: The terminal does display a full name and the DOB.]

At present according to Judith Smith, Ms Matherly has instructed the Superior Court Clerks to do the following:

* Only attorneys and their investigators now have access to the locked room where the public access computer with access to the public records now resides.
* Clerks are not allowed to provide dockets to anyone except to the defendant or their attorney of record.
* Record searchers may only provide clerks with 10 names a day.
Clerks may onlyprovide very limited information (for free) if there is only one recent case. Only data provided are the case #, violation and disposition date, the charge and disposition for convictions. If a charge was dismissed the clerk will not inform the requester. Also, no information is provided on sentencing or parole violations. However, the researcher can obtain this information for a $15.00 fee.
* If a subject name has more than one case, the clerks will only provide the case numbers. The researchers then must order each file to review for a $15.00 fee per case.

For those interested:

Judith Smith can be reached

The presiding judge and Ms. Matherly’s supervisor is Judge Barry LaBarbera.

Ms. Matherly can be reached at:

Ms. Susan Matherly
Executive Director, Superior Court
1050 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93408


One thought on “San Luis Obispo Court restricts public records access

  1. Interesting action taken by the director of the Superior Court.  Public records are public record, but it is up to the court on how they make those available, and it sounds like the online system or internet access was being used excessively, with increased burden on the court, and adding no benefits.  The Director is correct in at least one assumption, the majority of background screeners are not trained investigators, nor do they have any formal training in law enforcement or professional investigations, in most cases.  It’s important to remember that a screening company or “database search” company such as those discussed in this case, search public records, but they do not conduct actual investigations.  Nor do they cover all risk factors when hiring. As a result, more companies are relying on professional investigation firms to mitigate risk.

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