Secretary of State Jim Condos announces that since the Governor has declared a state of emergency, temporary emergency licenses for out-of-state health care providers and veterinarians are available.Use of Vermont providers should be our highest priority before reaching out to other states.Secretary Condos said this provision was enacted so Vermont would be better prepared to respond in the event of a disaster. It expedites the licensing process for the emergency assistance needed in the wake of a disaster like that caused by tropical storm Irene. Under normal conditions, the licensing process takes longer. ‘In an emergency situation like this,’ said Condos, ‘we need to act quickly to get the help on the ground where it is needed most. Volunteer health care professionals from neighboring states and even from all over the country are coming to Vermont to lend a hand. Under the circumstances, we’ll get them a temporary license the same day they apply and get them to work.’ Chris Winters, the Director of the Office of Professional Regulation, added: ‘Our mission is to protect the public and make sure that licensed health care providers are competent and safe practitioners. When the state is in emergency response mode, this law allows us to be more flexible when time is of the essence.’ 3 V.S.A. § 129(a)(10) allows the Office of Professional Regulation to issue temporary licenses to health care providers and veterinarians during a declared state of emergency. The health care provider or veterinarian must be currently licensed, in good standing and not subject to disciplinary proceedings in any other jurisdiction. The temporary license authorizes the holder to practice in Vermont until the termination of the declared state of emergency or 90 days, whichever occurs first. All licensing fees are waived. The Secretary of State’s Office of Professional regulation protects the public through licensing and regulation of 45 professions and nearly 55,000 licenses.
Panel favors online posting of court records Panel favors online posting of court records Comments sought on Internet records recommendations Jan Pudlow Senior Editor As Florida enters the new world of the digital age, the general public should have access to court records over the Internet — just as anyone does walking up to the counter at the court clerk’s office — but only after measures to safeguard confidential information are in place. And lawyers will play a new role in making sure legally private information does not find its way into court files.That’s the overall balancing-act recommendation of the Supreme Court Committee on Privacy and Court Records outlined in its May 3 draft report. The next step is to hear from you, as the panel moves toward its last meeting June 22 at the Orange County Courthouse to finalize recommendations for the court.“While not always agreeing, the members have worked together to seek the best solutions. This is a hard job. The importance of public confidence and transparency in the judicial process is fundamental, but so is the importance of the privacy of persons affected by the process, including innocent third parties and victims,” said Chair Jon Mills, director of the Center for Government Responsibility and dean emeritus and professor of law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.“We have sought to establish a balanced approach with safeguards and oversight as critical prior to publicizing information. We are seeking to keep junk information out of the records entirely and seeking a reliable process to protect information that is legally private and confidential. We want all comments and suggestions anyone may have.”Lawyers should be aware of their new responsibilities under proposed Rule 2.051, Public Access to Judicial Branch Records. Lawyers would be expected to keep confidential information out of court files, certify that it has been done, and pay the price if it hasn’t been.That bothers Fifth District Court of Appeal Judge Jacqueline Griffin, who voted with three others against Internet access, saying that Florida’s courts are not obliged to do so, and she warns lawyers that “the bull’s-eye is being painted on their backs.”“In my view, the best interests of customers — the users of the courts — have been discounted in favor of the demands of vocal and well-funded interest groups, mainly the media, which wants their access to be more convenient, and resellers of information, who want to inhale the volume and detail of information obtained in court records,” Judge Griffin told the News May 3, the day the committee met.“The really odd thing I have seen grow root and blossom in this process is the notion that the presence of personal or confidential information in court files is the fault of lawyers, and the burden of solving the problem ought to be put on lawyers’ backs. In tacit recognition that the users of the courts will suffer a loss of privacy, embarrassment, or perhaps even harm from the worldwide dissemination of court records, the committee has settled on what it calls ‘minimization’ to alleviate the damage. ‘Minimization’ means that lawyers should be forbidden to put ‘too much’ information in the court file and be forbidden to put it in ‘too soon.’ To discourage the offense of putting ‘unnecessary’ information in the court file and putting it in before it is ‘necessary’ for the resolution of some already filed motion, sanctions are recommended. Bar discipline and damage claims from aggrieved litigants and third parties predictably will follow.”Harm to users of Florida’s courts will not come from “extraneous information” in files, Judge Griffin predicts, but from what should be in court files for judges to make timely and accurate decisions.She also said it makes more sense that the custodian of the records — the clerks — should be the experts on what is legally confidential information, not lawyers.“Do we really want to have disputes decided and criminal responsibility determined in an environment where litigants and victims of crime know that everything they reveal will be electronically available worldwide and where lawyers know they can be personally liable if they give the court ‘too much’ information?” Judge Griffin asks. “Apparently, we are going to find out.”But the majority of the 15-member committee — a diverse group of lawyers, judges, court clerks, court administrators, and representatives of the First Amendment Foundation — voted for the courts to “affirmatively seek to provide general electronic access to court records,” at its March 28 meeting.Michael Froomkin, a technologically savvy professor of law at the University of Miami, voted for Internet access, but also for what he called the “very important carve-out of family law material” — such as financial information — and said the two issues “really need to be understood jointly.”“I think the committee faces a set of very difficult problems and is tackling them with great seriousness and industry,” Froomkin said April 26.“Of the many problems, the very hardest is probably how to deal with unrepresented parties. In their fear that leaving out something may have vast consequences they don’t fully understand, unrepresented parties sometimes take a ‘kitchen sink’ approach to providing information, especially in family cases where the stakes are so personal and so high. They don’t realize that everything they send the court becomes a public record and that some day it might be digitized and put online, inviting identify theft and other privacy violations,” Froomkin said.“The committee is very aware of this issue, but solving it in a way which neither compromises an unrepresented party’s rights nor subjects them to sanctions for violating rules they may not know about or understand is not an easy problem to solve.”Larry Turner, a former Gainesville judge now in private practice, was one who voted for Internet access with quality-control mechanisms.“There are three big issues that both conflict and complement,” Turner said April 26. “They are: How do we get the courts’ work done and ensure that we have the information necessary for that? How do we maintain transparency so that the citizens know what our courts do and why? And how do we protect important private information that is necessary for the courts to adjudicate issues? Remember that the right to privacy and the right to access to court information — transparency — are both enshrined in our state constitution. The big issues are hard enough. But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. This is a huge challenge.”Part of that challenge is the issue of abuses of public information by commercial data brokers. As revealed by the recent national headline news, ChoicePoint, the nation’s largest database company, had sold dossiers on more than 145,000 consumers, including more than 10,000 Floridians, to a ring of overseas identity thieves.The committee’s draft report acknowledges that “current laws are not adequate,” the Supreme Court cannot regulate the data industry, and urges the Florida Legislature to seize its power to do so.“The Florida Legislature. . . has significant power to protect Floridians by enactment of state laws. Of perhaps greater impact, Florida is, in this area, in a position to lead the nation by way of innovative example. The constitutional right of privacy in Florida — ‘the right to be let alone and free from government intrusion’ — is explicit and stronger than the federal right and any such right found in any other state constitution,” the committee said in its draft report.But cutting off Internet access “is not an effective means to combat ID theft, publication of embarrassing private facts, or degrading the value that some people place on ‘anonymity,’” said Jon Kaney, a Daytona Beach lawyer who represents the First Amendment Foundation.“I hope that the work product of the committee will recognize the transparency of judicial proceedings is not only essential to Florida’s tradition of openness but required by the First Amendment.. . . I think public records should be public,” Kaney told the News. “If exposure of the record to the public via ‘practically obscure’means [the traditional method of going to the courthouse and requesting the file] invades an interest of overriding importance, then the record should be exempt at the clerk’s counter, as well as on the ’Net. Otherwise, it should be out there.. . . “The Internet is a means of communication. Efforts to choke off the use of new communications means by the people are doomed to failure. The printing press had a profound impact on society, bringing about the Reformation, among other things. There was no such thing as a ‘prior restraint’ until the printing press was invented. It did not work. Neither will laws that attempt to stand in the way of the ability of people to communicate through this new means.” The draft report is available on the court’s Web site at www.flcourts.org and look for the Privacy and Court Records item. Direct your written comments to Jon Mills, Committee on Privacy and Court Records, Supreme Court of Florida, 500 S. Duval St., Tallahassee, 32399-1900; or by e-mail at CPCR@flcourts.org. May 15, 2005 Senior Editor Regular News