Rogers County District Court Clerk Kim Henry has jumped at an unexpected opportunity allowing the court’s records to take a giant leap into the 21st century.
Most new filings—both new cases and new documents in existing cases—are now available online through the Oklahoma State Court Network (oscn.net) site.
While it will take time, court filings will eventually be made electronically (as now is done in the federal courts).
Back documents will also be scanned and put online as time and equipment allow.
This is a huge convenience for lawyers, abstractors, journalists and others who use court records daily. It also means members of the public who need to access a case file can review it on their schedule, from their homes or offices.
If they need copies from a file, they can make them for the cost of toner and paper—no more per-page charges.
It also means the clerk and her deputies can spend their time handling more complex matters that require face-to-face interaction.
The change also has opened a new frontier for your newspaper, one which started last week.
Through a column called Legal Briefs, we will be providing much more thorough coverage of civil and criminal cases.
We will be boiling down filings from selected cases. Readers who want more information can access the docket sheets and case files on line.
We know there will be questions about how we choose which cases to cover. The procedures will evolve as we gain experience and hear feedback, but here are the basics.
First, we simply can’t cover, or even mention, every case that it filed.
As of Friday, more than 3,629 new cases had been filed in Rogers County District Court so far this year not counting marriages, divorces, probate cases, minister’s credentials, beer licenses, administrative orders, wildlife law infractions, and various other matters handled through the court system.
We will rarely report on traffic cases—2,017 have been filed so far this year and although we do a cursory review of each anything more would be impossible for reasons of both time and space.
There have been 278 felonies, 381 criminal misdemeanors, 188 protective orders, 269 civil cases involving more than $10,000, 51 civil cases involving lesser damages or non-monetary issues and 445 small claims cases.
We will generally review new cases in all those categories (except basic home foreclosures unless there is an unusual element or pattern) for possible inclusion in the newspaper.
Key criteria include:
• Whether a case is based on events in our coverage area, which is basically the northwest quadrant of the county.
• Whether a case involves one or more residents of our coverage area.
• Whether a case fits the definition of, “You simply can’t make this stuff up” or “You’ll never believe what dumb stuff this idiot did to get caught.”
• Whether a case highlights a broad issue of countywide interest, regardless of who is involved or where it occurred.
Cases fitting each of those criteria are included this week. In one case, the identity of the victims is omitted to protect a minor. In several cases, specific addresses are omitted.
Case details have been summarized for space reasons. And some details are omitted because they are simply too graphic to include in a family newspaper.
In a few cases, certain information has been redacted for legitimate reasons from the public records which we can access. In the rest, readers who want to see every detail of a case where we’ve left out information can go on line for that information.
One thing to remember—in the case of initial filings of criminal charges, only the prosecution’s or plaintiff’s view of the case is available. Few criminal defendants have attorneys at that stage, and we do not believe it is fair for us to interview a defendant who does not have legal counsel.
In civil cases, we will ask the defendant for comment but in most cases our call or email will be the first notice they get that they have been sued.
We will be happy to take comment from attorneys in both civil and criminal cases once they are retained.
Most important, our publication of a criminal case does not imply guilt. A defendant is considered innocent unless and until he or she is proved guilty in a court of law.
The same holds true in civil cases—publication that a suit has been filed does not mean that one side is right or wrong. That issue will be decided by a judge or jury.
We hope the Court Clerk’s hard work in setting up the new records systems and our coverage of court cases will give the public a better understanding of both the civil and criminal justice systems.
Meanwhile, if you don’t want your name in Legal Briefs, here are some quick tips:
• Don’t drink and drive, and especially don’t drink Busch Beer and drive. For some reason cops can detect Busch a mile away.
• Don’t get mad at the principal and leave a phone message that you’re going to kick his ass.
• Don’t swig beer or booze from an open can or bottle while you drive. Cops have a keen eye for that.
• And unless you enjoy pain and temporary loss of some body function, don’t taunt a cop about getting jolted with a taser. You won’t want a repeat performance.
Other than that, happy reading. And please send suggestions for ways we could improve our court coverage to firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to put “Legal Briefs” in the subject line. Thanks!