Grayson County commissioners expressed their opposition to giving attorneys online access to legal documents. At the urging of County Clerk Wilma Bush and District Clerk Kelly Ashmore, the Grayson County Commissioners Court passed a resolution Tuesday in opposition of a plan from the Office of Court Administration to open re:SearchTx to attorneys and other authorized users.
“A couple years ago, the state of Texas created an e-filing mandate and created a portal for attorneys to e-file their documents,” Bush said of the re:SearchTx online portal. “Since then, there has be a development that Office of Court Administration has created a statewide access for judges to have access to these online documents.”
Bush explained OCA, which is the policy making body of Texas courts, now wants to add access for attorneys and other subscribed users.
“The county and district clerk are the custodian of records for the courts and it’s a constitutional duty that the local clerks maintain local control of their records,” Bush said. “Our county and district clerks association has taken the position to oppose that (decision by OCA) for a myriad of reasons. As the custodian of record when a record is expunged or a nondisclosure order, it’s our responsibility to maintain our local records and purge those records. We lose control of that if there is a portal out there that is not being maintained by the local clerk.”
Ashmore said OCA isn’t thinking about the access that would be granted to documents that haven’t yet gone through the process of being sealed.
“This re:SearchTx is taking it one step further without really going through the process of those sealed documents, adoptions, juvenile’s cases — anything like that, that we’re responsible to make sure no one has access to,” Ashmore said. “That takes that out of our custody, care and control, but the law hasn’t changed in what our role is in that.”
County Judge Bill Magers said it is an issue of accountability and responsibility that falls to the clerks.
“We’re not trying to suppress public information, this is not about not making sure records are made public and those things,” Magers said. “What I’m hearing you say is if you open this door, then some of those things are lost, but you’re still being held responsible for the same statutory responsibilities.”
Bush explained that there have been more than 450 other districts and counties in Texas that have also expressed opposition to the re:SearchTx expansion.
“Why would they think this is a good idea?” Commissioner Phyllis James said.
Magers said the reason for the expansion was likely because there was money to be made on fees for access to the portal.
“Right now they pay us and in the future they’re going to be paying them,” Commissioner Jeff Whitmire said.
Bush called opening access to attorneys and subscribed users a “slippery slope” as it would cause cause clerks to lose their constitutional authority to maintain and preserve records.
“To Commissioner Whitmire’s point, the bureaucracy is driving this, not our elected legislators,” Magers said. “That’s a real key problem. If this is going to happen, it needs to come from our elected officials down.”
The commissioners also approved the submission of a grant application for the fiscal year 2018 Violence Against Women Act for the Domestic Violence Investigator Program, which pays the salary of investigator Terry Dunn, and authorized the solicitation of bids for new uniforms for the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office.