Federal courts destroying old records to save money

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Center for Public Integrity reports that the federal courts have begun destroying millions of court records “that have been stored in the Federal Records Centers of the National Archives for decades,” in order to save millions of dollars in continuing storage costs.

“The plan is to destroy all records on cases that did not go to trial that were filed between 1970 and 1995,” the center’s story said. “For other records, the federal judiciary has reduced the current record retention time from 25 to 15 years in an effort to cut costs. All cases that went to trial or were filed before 1970 will be kept.”

According to the story, the plan will save $7.7 million over the next 10 years.

“[T]he decision to destroy 79,000 boxes filled with civil cases, 43,000 boxes of criminal cases and over 500,000 bankruptcy records is cause for concern among legal historians and advocates for public access to information,” the center reported.

However, the federal court system has put in place a way for people to request that certain records be spared for historic or other special reasons.

Patrice McDermott, director of OpentheGovernment.org, wrote yesterday on the FOI-L listserve: “This (records destruction) is not as draconian as it seems at first read. You should look through the codes they use to appraise the records. … So, not ideal – and one can fault them on cutting public access to cut costs — but their process (for allowing public requests to save some records) is more than required.”

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