The decision this week by the state Supreme Court to continue allowing public access to identifying information in criminal court proceedings is a victory for all Oklahomans who value transparency in their justice system.
The court was considering allowing attorneys to redact routine identifying information such as a criminal suspect’s birth dates and home address. The ruling applies to all district courts throughout the state.
There was widespread concern among public watchdog groups, some district attorneys, judges and the news media that such a move would usher in an era of court secrecy not seen in this state.
Justices were considering closing access as part of an update of the court’s database. Eventually, filings in all 77 counties will be accessible online. Social Security numbers have not been part of most filings for many years.
The new rule requires that those who file court documents — such as district attorneys — may only limit information on Social Security, taxpayer ID, financial account and driver’s license numbers.
Members of the press and some law enforcement argued that without a birth date, it would be difficult to positively identify a person charged with a crime since many persons share similar names.
Additionally, the court turned down a plan that would have allowed parties in court cases to request certain documents be sealed. A redacted version could then be filed for public record.
The ruling is a bit surprising as this is the same court that earlier shut off access to public employee birthdates and employee numbers as an “unwanted invasion of privacy.”
In any case, we commend the justices on their decision and their own openness to accept public comments on the proposal. The ruling effectively keeps transparency in our courts.