Court Appointed Family Court Cases Now Confidential
December 13, 2016
FORT WORTH: Just within the last few months, the Tarrant County family court has manually hidden hundreds of family cases from the public’s view. Some family cases are and should be confidential, but statutes set out specific conditions for sealing these records.
A few months ago, Protective Parents Coalition (PPC) reviewed one commonly court-appointed attorney’s case load and found only a handful of cases were marked confidential. As of yesterday, 85% of the attorney’s cases are now marked confidential. The remaining 15% of the cases open to the public are cases involving the Attorney General’s Office.
In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized landmark case Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc. a common-law right “to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.” One could argue the Tarrant County family courts have chosen to take the right to inspect public records from not only the public, but also litigants involved in family court.
Prior to September 2015, the Tarrant County District Clerk positioned dummy computers in sub-courthouse locations throughout Tarrant County. This not only provided the public access to family, civil and criminal cases, but more importantly the litigants with court cases could retrieve motions, orders and future hearing date announcements. When the State Department demanded the District Clerk to handle passports differently in Sept. 2015, the District Clerk decided to shut down all six passport offices in Tarrant County instead. Now citizens can no longer access public records outside the downtown district courthouses.
Currently if a litigant, or member of the public, wants to review a family court case, they must sign in on the court case folder jacket. This sign in sheet is available to anyone handling the case file, including the judge. Since PPC has argued the family courts are retaliatory against litigants taking an active role in their case, this policy change could be intimidating.
Litigants can no longer view their own cases anonymously.
– Protective Parents Coalition
There are only three reasons the government keeps information from the view of the public: (1) Security; (2) Cover up mistakes and (3) Avoid public debate.
So based on the three reasons, which one(s) do you believe would explain why the Tarrant County family courts have basically changed their ‘transparency policy’ overnight?