Robert A. Bertsche, general counsel to the New England Newspaper & Press Association, said Massachusetts has one of the weakest public records laws in the country, including the fact that the governor and the State Legislature consider themselves exempt from these requirements. Access to court records on the other hand is not notably worse than in other states, he said. But a recent shift to online access of court records that should be making access easier, has instead taken a step backwards on access to the most important state cases.
Access to court records here has a tradition that can be documented back to shortly after the Pilgrims landed, according to Mr. Bertsche. Yet a new online system limits rather than expands this access on the more important state cases. Where news organizations previously could login for online access to Superior Court cases, the new system limits logins to lawyers. Mr. Bertsche wrote on behalf of NENPA and several other media organizations this month in an effort to win at least the level of access journalists have had on the old site. Superior Court records are still available, but where once a reporter could look them up online, a reporter now must travel to the appropriate courthouse to view the paperwork there.
The Trial Court Public Access to Court Records Committee will hold a hearing for public comment on June 15 in Boston. Mr. Bertsche would also like a member of the public or media on the committee, which only comprises judges. Click here to read full article.