Do court transcripts fall under FOI? Can they be withheld from litigants?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Freedom of Information Act applies only to federal government agencies. Although all states have created their own FOI acts, these acts do not apply to the court systems. However, courts have tended to allow a right of access to court files and documents, including court transcripts. The problem that the courts have constantly faced is determining just how far the right of access reaches.

The general rule is that if the public has access to a legal proceeding, then it has the right to access to the records of a proceeding, which include court transcripts.

Many states’ Web sites have instructions for ordering court transcripts. For example, see Connecticut’s Judicial Branch site or Kansas’s Judicial Branch.

Litigants in a trial have the right of access to obtain court transcripts of the trial if the public also has access. However, judges do have the authority to withhold court transcripts from the public and litigants.

An Ohio Supreme Court decision held that the cost of obtaining a court transcript depends on who is making the request. In State ex. rel. Slagle v. Rogers, the state court held that parties to a court proceeding must pay the court reporter $2.50 per page for a transcript. Anyone who subsequently requests a court transcript must pay only 10 cents per page — the standard rate in Ohio for any public record.