Monday, October 22, 2007

Great moments in content management

Unclear how often sealed cases opened by accident
When divorce lawyer Mary Sue Ramsden read details of the Scaife v. Scaife divorce case in last Sunday's Post-Gazette, she wasn't surprised that supposedly sealed court documents had become publicly available online.

Through human or computer error, she said, several of her own divorce cases had become public on the county prothonotary's Web site even though she had obtained judicial orders to keep them sealed.

"I've been making a habit of checking periodically because I knew it had been a problem," Ms. Ramsden said.

Prothonotary Michael Lamb, as well as some other lawyers and judges, however, said last week that the Scaife case was the first instance they'd heard of in which a sealed case had become available online.

Mr. Lamb said the Scaife filing was unavailable to the public after Common Pleas Judge Alan Hertzberg sealed it in March 2006, but it apparently became accessible Aug. 28. He said there was a new filing in the case that day, and the clerk scanning the information into the docket may have neglected a necessary computer step to reseal the information.

It seems that setting the default on sealed, requiring a clerk to consciously select sealed would be best-practices, even if in the vast majority of cases the court record would be public.

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