ARCHIVED: On the Courts Information Access Provider Program

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Statement of
the American Association of Law Libraries
the Southern California Association of Law Libraries
to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors

on the Courts Information Access Provider Program

October 5, 1995

Good morning, Mr./Ms. Chairman and Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. I am H. Edward Brown, Director of Library Information and Services, at Morgan Lewis & Bockius located here in Los Angeles. It is a privilege to be with you today representing the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the Southern California Association of Law Libraries (SCALL). AALL is a nonprofit educational organization headquartered in Chicago with over 5,000 members nationwide. Our members respond to the legal and governmental information needs of legislators, judges, and other public officials at all levels of government, corporations and small businesses, law professors and students, attorneys, and members of the general public. I speak to you today also as the Chapter President of the Southern California Association of Law Libraries.

Law librarians appreciate the initiative of the Information Systems Advisory Body (ISAB) in recognizing the need to take advantage of new technologies to develop a centralized online system providing access to Los Angeles County civil court records. We have, however, several strong concerns regarding the Information Access Provider Agreement (IAP) that is under discussion today.

First, while we are aware of the very real financial pressures facing the County, we are troubled that the development of the new system is viewed as a profit-making venture. The records of the Municipal and Superior Courts of Los Angeles County, compiled and maintained by County employees at taxpayer expense, are public records. California law makes no distinction as to the physical form or characteristic of the information (CAL. GOV'T. CODE Sec. 6252, Deering 1982). If an electronic database is created for the use of a government entity, the same electronic format should be available to the public at no or low cost. The proposal under consideration today to develop an enhanced information system infringes on the public's right to County court records by increasing their cost.

While the IAP is clearly aimed for commercial users, it is not in the public interest. To presume that those who cannot pay to access the new enhanced online system will have to continue to rely on the so-called "basic service," consisting of information not regularly updated and held at several court locations throughout the County, is inequitable. It means that individual claimants, legal services organizations, and public interest groups will have to traipse all over town to get documents they need, while the well-to-do will have access with a few keystrokes. Such inequities are inappropriate in a legal system that attempts to hear equally the concerns of all--rich and poor alike.

Second, we believe that a government entity is justified in charging fees only to recover the costs of distributing information but not to make a profit. Thus, we oppose any efforts by government entities to impose controls on the downstream use of public information. The 25% royalty fee proposed by the IAP on each transaction imposes a copyright-like control over the information which we find unacceptable. It would generate revenue totally unrelated to the cost of providing the information. In addition, the IAP agreement restricts users from making this court data available "in bulk, via multiple records, or on CD-ROM or other electronic or optical media" further limiting use of the information. We believe that a government entity should not hold monopolistic control over its information but should make it available through a diversity of sources for the greatest benefit to the public.

Finally, we would like to point out that our nation is well-underway in developing the National Information Infrastructure (NII). The vision of the NII includes making information from all levels of government easily and equitably available to the public. For your information, we have attached to this statement a copy of the "Government Information & Services Principles" endorsed in August by the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council.

I would also like to direct your attention to several initiatives under consideration here in California to plan for the NII. Assembly Bill 142 would require all city and county governments to make available electronically to the public all public records maintained in electronic format. It would also prohibit the for-profit sale of public records. The California Judicial Council is also examining standards to implement electronic information and communication technologies for courts throughout the state.

We respectfully request that Los Angeles County delay approval of the proposed Information Access Provider Program pending legislative action and the Judicial Council's recommendations. Thank you very much for your time and consideration in this very important matter.