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Self-help forms to be out soon for requesting redactions of private info in court records

Self-help forms to be out soon for requesting redactions of private info in court records

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Self-help forms and instructions are set to be available next week for people to request redactions of private information from North Dakota court records -- an avenue of addressing privacy concerns that arose after public court documents were briefly made remotely accessible.

State Court Administrator Sally Holewa said the forms are expected to be available on Monday on the self-help webpage at ndcourts.gov. The forms come more than a month after North Dakota's Supreme Court unplugged newly established remote access to online court records due to concerns of private information left in public documents.

The forms could be used for any information a person might wish to be redacted, Holewa said, such as embarrassing or painful court exhibits or civil or family case affidavits containing untrue or unproven allegations.

But the forms were specifically created for requesting redactions of private information under a 2009 rule requiring filers to obscure Social Security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, birth dates, minors' names and financial account information.

It's unknown how many documents potentially contain such information.

North Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Jon Jensen said the forms are intended as an aid to people who would like to proceed without an attorney.

"The forms may or may not be appropriate depending on the specific circumstances of each case. Each judge will need to determine whether the forms are sufficient for the particular circumstances," he said.

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The forms follow a court motion practice. People who want private information redacted will need to file a notice of motion, a motion to prohibit public access, a declaration or affidavit-style document and a confidential information form.

"Essentially, the end product if your motion is granted is that the publicly accessible documents would be redacted or removed but the court would still have access to this confidential information that would allow the court to continue to do its business," Holewa said.

Judges couldn't consider granting redactions any sooner than the 14-day period for other parties of a case to respond or object to the motion.

Jensen said the court does not have a time frame for restoring remote access to court documents. Those same records are available at public computers in county courthouses. Clerks of court generally will email requested documents but aren't required to do so.

The remote access to court records came under an administrative rule change in September that was meant to "maximize accessibility" and remove barriers to public records. Holewa said that is still the goal.

"The court is still considering how best to do that," she said.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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