Kentucky To Retain All Court Records, Courts Chief Says

By Associated Press | 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky will retain all court records forever, a move made criticism of the destruction of tens of thousands of old files from Louisville, the state's top court administrator said.

Jason Nemes, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said the records will be stored in a warehouse in Frankfort rented by the agency.

The need to store new paper records in the warehouse will likely be short-lived, Nemes said. Kentucky will likely switch to electronic filing of court records within the next few years, eliminating the need to preserve new documents, Nemes said.

The decision to store the records in a warehouse came after a report in February, criticizing officials with the Administrative Office of the Courts for ignoring the importance of the records and for not realizing they could be stored cheaply in electronic formats.

The report, written by a panel headed by Court of Appeals Judge Tom Wine, came after a variety of records at the Jefferson County Courthouse were destroyed, prompting complaints from law enforcement and prosecutors that the records were still necessary for prosecutions and future investigations.

The report said that then-director Melinda Wheeler, who has since retired and is running in the Republican primary for state treasurer, failed to raise concerns about their destruction.

The panel recommended numerous changes, including that misdemeanor records be maintained for at least 25 years and that the destruction of such records be temporarily halted statewide.

The panel said agency employees broke no laws, and the report recommended no disciplinary action.

The records preservation policy, though, didn't address a concern of law enforcement officials, who say the agency bars police from statewide access to its online court records system. Police and others say that lack of access hampers investigations.

"Criminals don't stay within county borders and it is important for police to be able to see their activity throughout the state," said Debbie Michals, who trained police on how to use the CourtNet system when she worked in the Jefferson circuit court clerk's office from 1997 to 2005.

Leigh Anne Hiatt, the agency's spokeswoman, declined to answer questions about the issue, other than to say "the process for disseminating CourtNet information to support criminal justice personnel throughout Kentucky will likely come under review in the coming weeks."

The Administrative Office of the Courts limits police access to CourtNet to information about offenders in their own county. If police want information about cases in other counties, they have to request it in writing.

Officials have previously said users cannot access CourtNet from other counties because it is not an official court record and the user wouldn't be able to check it against the actual court file.

Capt. Steve Thompson, commander of the Louisville Metro Police narcotics unit, said waiting for statewide checks and be troubling, because the information can be useful if made available instantly.

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