Town registrars in Massachusetts publish an annual “street list” of local resident names, dates of birth, occupations, veteran status and nationality, which has been a public record. A state Senate bill would change that status, from one of a public record, to one that is only available for federal, state and local governmental use. [Story: Public listings could go private, Matt Murphy, Eagle Boston Bureau]
The common practice of treating search warrants as public records comports with the law, according to an Opinion issued by the Illinois Attorney General. Once the warrants have been returned to the court they are part of the court record and must be available for public inspection.The Sangamon County State’s Attorney backed the Circuit Clerk, who was apparently one of the few court clerks denying the public access to the executed search warrants. As one of this story’s commentators noted, “at some point they have to be made public because it is the public’s dollars which finance them. Making it clear that every search warrant will eventually become public keeps those issuing them honest. We do want judges issuing them and police seeking them kept honest don’t we?”
A Washington State school district narrowly won support from the state Supreme Court in a decision that pitted the Public Records Act against attorney-client privilege for government agencies. Perhaps most damaging to open government, noted in the Justices’ dissent, is the aspect of the ruling allows agencies to seek a judicial determination as to whether a requested public record must be disclosed.
Closing judicial records is always bad form. If the public cannot access or scrutinize the actions of the government, than accountability is lost.