President’s Column: Working toward cheaper, easier access to court records in Idaho

By Betsy Russell

We were all pretty excited when Sara Thomas, the new administrative director of Idaho’s courts, told us at the Press Club’s Fall Conference this year that she believes folks should be allowed to take a picture of a court document with their phone, rather than pay $1 a page for a photocopy.

But Thomas had to follow up after the conference with this caveat: While courts have no legal authority to charge you $1 a page for taking a picture of a court document with your phone, under current law, the elected county clerk can designate what equipment can be used for copying – including that we can’t use our phones, and so have to pay them $1 a page to get a photocopy. “Perhaps this process needs to be reviewed, considering the technological advances since the statute was passed,” Thomas said. “But for now, this is where we are.”

Some courts – including those in Ada, Canyon and Twin Falls counties – still don’t let people take a picture of a court record with a cell phone. But others do. “The Court strongly encourages clerks and judges to allow the use of cell phones for copying, so long as it doesn’t violate Idaho Code 74-101,” Thomas said, referring to the portion of the public records law that requires that the public record not be altered or damaged. As a side note, it doesn’t cost a thing to just look at the court record and take notes.

All this will change in the future, as Idaho moves to its new paperless court records system, Odyssey, which is now being phased in. Eventually, court records will be available through this centralized, electronic system, rather than from each county clerk, possibly through a low-fee subscription service like the federal courts’ PACER system. “We are working actively on this,” Thomas said. The next step is a pilot project, during which redaction software and other technicalities will be tested; that plan is now in the works.

Betsy Russell is a Boise-based reporter for The Spokesman-Review, and is the president of the Idaho Press Club.