Images of Filed Complaints Can Now be Obtained in Real Time

Images of Filed Complaints Can Now be Obtained in Real Time

A federal judge in Tallahassee recently entered an order requiring the implementation of a single statewide public access point for obtaining images of newly-filed circuit civil complaints.

The order reinstates what was once the common practice in Florida during the print era, whereby journalists could check new printed complaints as soon as they were filed, often revealing breaking stories about fraudulent business practices, political graft, environmental impacts and other areas of public concern. This older process had been gradually discarded as the digital revolution took root in the courts, leaving paper behind and requiring complaints in electronic form. While seemingly a step forward in “modernization,” the process actually often allowed information to be sealed for a day or a week or more, rendering it stale and less informative.

Despite serious but fruitless negotiations to end the process, it remained in place in Florida for years. However, in 2018, Courthouse News (CN) began documenting the situation and produced a report that started the train of events that ended in the Court’s September order.

The order, by Chief U.S. Judge Mark Walker, grants CN’s injunction directed to Florida’s e-filing authority, requiring public access to new complaints when they cross the virtual counter “on receipt,” and bringing the state courts back in line with how they used to be in the time of paper.

CN’s case was shepherded through the process by its attorneys, Carol LoCicero, Mark Caramanica, James Maguire, and Daniela Abratt, with the law firm of Thomas & LoCicero.

After the judgment, LoCicero wrote by email, “Providing statewide, on receipt access to new complaints is about accurate, timely news reporting to the public and the integrity of the judicial system itself.”

This access method should be helpful to journalists trying to obtain access to new complaints, which are now viewable in near real time. They will need to register for a free account. Here’s how it works:

  1. Use this link: https://www.myflcourtaccess.com/default.aspx
  2. Scroll down to Do not have an account – Register Now!
  3. Select the media role from the drop down menu.
  4. Create your account.
  5.  Log into the Portal.
  6. Click on the Filings Access link/icon at the top right of the screen with the map.
  7. You should see statewide filings populate in reverse chron order. You can filter by date and court. The search options will automatically populate for the current day’s date.
  8. To access imaged documents, click on the arrow icon in the far left. (You’ll get links to imaged documents from the plaintiff’s initial submission, including the complaint.)
  9. To get updated filings, refresh the page if you’ve logged in.

Here is a more detailed story on the case: https://www.courthousenews.com/first-amendment-access-returned-to-court-records-throughout-florida/