Appeals Court gives free access to court records

The New York State Court of Appeals will make case records, including briefs and motion papers, available online. The records can be accessed electronically through a searchable database called the Public Access and Search System or Court-PASS.  Social Security numbers, children’s names, phone numbers, and other sensitive information will be removed from the available documents. There will be a restriction on certain records such as cases arising in Family Court and those that are sealed by a court order

Electronic access to records may be new to the Court of Appeals but it has been around for some time. “It is not evolutionary,” commented attorney Warren S. Hecht. “Theoretically you can get it on microfiche at the law library. In federal court, things were available online for years.”

Many lawyers are lauding the expansion as a useful tool for attorneys.

“It’s great, whenever we have access to more info easily. It’s terrific,” said attorney Joyce B. David. “For example, if I’m researching an issue for appeal, the decisions are available online, but you want to see arguments and case law online because it will support my own case. Having the briefs will give me the benefits of reading other attorneys arguments and the reason for those arguments.”

The economic and environmentally savings is also being noted. "It’s more green, instead of filing 19 copies we only have to file one. I don’t have a problem with it. I think it’s going to cut down on waste,” Brooklyn lawyer Geanine Towers said.  

Commenting on the cost savings, David said “To conduct research we use the Westlaw electronic database. It’s a monthly fee, generally $230 every month, just for online research and their books are very expensive. Times are tough all around, even for attorneys and the free Court of Appeals database will help alleviate some of the financial burden.”  

Not everyone is excited about the court’s move. Immigration lawyer Matthew Guadagno stated his “concern is that there are cases that are sensitive. There is concern about people’s private information becoming available.”

Appellate attorney Naved Amed’s main issue is that the database will “essentially flood the court with previously used documents which might not be applicable. Briefs, for example, are sophisticated documents and it might mislead certain individuals who might use these documents in an unsophisticated manner.”

Access to Court-PASS will be available beginning Feb. 1.

Robert Abruzzese contributed to this article.