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Public to get easier access to Missouri court documents

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Jefferson City.

The Missouri Supreme Court has made it easier for more people to see more information about court cases in the state in the future.

The judges voted in late June to change the access rules for CaseNet, the public portal for the court’s case management system. It will take effect July 1, 2023.

Since the mid-1990s, people seeking information about court cases have been able to see basic details, such as charges that have been filed or when the next hearing is scheduled. But to get the underlying documents, anyone except attorneys and defendants had to use specific computer terminals, usually located at courthouses.

Starting next year, most documents filed after that July 1 date will be accessible from personal computers and smartphones.

“Ever since the court automation program started in the 1990s, there was a vision of being able to move to this point of where the public would be able to transparently see what their courts were doing,” said Beth Riggert, communications counsel for the Supreme Court. “And of course, the core business of the courts are the cases themselves.”

Riggert said the extended deadline gives court officials a chance to make sure the system can handle the traffic. CaseNet, she said, already gets more than a billion hits annually. It also gives the court a chance to reeducate lawyers on their obligation to redact sensitive or personal information from documents.

Those requirements are nothing new, Riggert said, but will become even more important with documents being available to more people.

Terry Lawson, a senior staff attorney at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, said he had privacy concerns about expanding CaseNet, including whether companies using artificial intelligence would scrape the system looking for information. But he said the change would improve access to the courts for a number of groups, which is part of the nonprofit's mission.

“If any client of any age has a disability that would make computer functionality difficult, certainly others being able to at least help them through obtaining those documents makes good sense to us,” he said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

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Lippmann returned to her native St. Louis after spending two years covering state government in Lansing, Michigan. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and followed (though not directly) in Maria Altman's footsteps in Springfield, also earning her graduate degree in public affairs reporting. She's also done reporting stints in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Rachel likes to fill her free time with good books, good friends, good food, and good baseball.