Through an order issued on January 29, 2016, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has made amendments to the Rhode Island Judiciary Rules of Practice Governing Public Access to Electronic Case Information (the “Public Access Rules”) to address electronic access to non-public case information. The amendments now place a burden on practitioners to review cases that were commenced before the courts’ conversion to electronic filing to determine whether the case files contain non-public case information that should be protected.
The Public Access Rules contain a non-exhaustive list of non-public case information, which includes certain information that, by statute, is non-public such as juvenile cases, child custody cases and civil marijuana cases. In addition, and important to most practitioners, the Public Access Rules provide that any case or portions thereof that have been sealed through an order of the court are non-public.
The January 29, 2016 amendments to the Public Access Rules address the treatment of non-public information in cases filed prior to the courts’ conversion to electronic filing.
In any case that pre-dates the Rhode Island Judiciary’s conversion to electronic filing, any documents filed before the conversion to electronic filing will be scanned and converted to electronic filing upon the filing of a new pleading or the scheduling of a hearing.
In active cases, if the court file contains any non-public case information, attorneys must file with the court a Motion to Protect Non-Public Information in a Case Filed Prior to Electronic Filing to protect such information from being made public upon the conversion of the case to electronic filing. A form motion is available on the Rhode Island Judiciary’s website. The motion must be served not only on all parties in the case but also on any individual to whom the records pertain (if they are not a party in the case). The Public Access Rules provide that any such motion shall be freely granted and that a hearing is required before any such motion is denied.
In cases that are closed or have been dormant for more than one year, the Clerk will send notice to the attorneys of record and parties before scanning the court file. The notice will advise counsel and the parties that the case will be converted to electronic format and will invite them to review the file’s contents to determine whether it contains non-public case information. Within 15 days of receipt of the notice, attorneys may file a Motion to Protect Non-Public Information in a Case Filed Prior to Electronic Filing to protect such information.
Thus, attorneys in Rhode Island with cases that pre-date the courts’ conversion to electronic filing must be conscious that non-public case information may be made available to the public upon the conversion of the case to electronic filing unless they file a Motion to Protect Non-Public Information in a Case Filed Prior to Electronic Filing.