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Virginia’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ Approach to Online Court Records

An investigation by the Courthouse News Service, in which journalists visited 25 Virginia circuit courts to report on civil complaints filed in those courthouses, found that, while clerks could give free access to a “vault” of historical records, they were caught in a web of payments required by the Richmond, Va.,-based Office of the Executive Secretary that prevented them from allowing the journalists, or anyone not listed as an officer of the court, to sign up for online access to public records.

One clerk compared the Executive Secretary’s software to the Wizard of Oz because it controlled “everything.” Clerks said offered a variety of excuses, including that those requesting access needed a business license. Out of thousands of listed civil cases throughout the courts, the journalist had only been able to access 10 new cases for their reports on new and noteworthy litigation.

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