In an unexpected announcement, Maine's chief justice says that in the future state court records will be available to the public online.
Chief Justice Leigh Saufley says she envisions something similar to the federal PACER system which charges a small fee for online access to court documents such as schedules, motions and decisions.
Saufley made the announcement at the start of a hearing on rules proposed by the majority on a transparency and privacy task force. The panel wanted online access limited to what would have amounted to a table of contents. In order to get the documents themselves, reporters and members of the public would have had to travel to a court house to view paper files, as they do now.
News organizations, including Maine Public Radio, were advocating for open access. Attorney Sigmund Schutz is on the Board of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition. He sees public access to court records online as a huge win for the public.
"I think the court is going to examine whether some categories of rcords that are now public or some information in now public records would no longer be public, but that's something to be assessed down the road," Schutz says.
Schutz says the court might look to the Legislature to weigh in on what court documents should be available to the public and which should not.
He says the court indicated a draft rule would be available for public review some time this fall. It could be several years before the system is in place.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.