Chief Justice Minton forms committee to review policy on court records retention

Group will hold first meeting Sept. 4 in Frankfort 

FRANKFORT, Ky., Aug. 27, 2008 ¾ Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. has formed a committee to review how the Kentucky court system retains, destroys and archives court records statewide. The new Court Records Retention Committee, or CRRC, will hold its first meeting Thursday, Sept. 4, in Frankfort.  

The CRRC members represent those with an interest in the preservation of court records, including judges, attorneys, circuit court clerks and personnel from the Administrative Office of the Courts. The members are Court of Appeals Judge Thomas B. Wine, who will chair the committee; Jefferson County Family Court Judge Patricia Walker FitzGerald; Senior Judge Roger L. Crittenden; District Judge Brandy O. Brown, who serves Clark and Madison counties; Woodford County Circuit Court Clerk Tricia Kittinger; Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson; Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts; Damon Preston, director of the Trial Division of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy; Kevin Smalley, manager of the AOC Division of Clerk Services; Jim Columbia, manager of the AOC Division of Records and Statistics; and Brian Sudduth, supervisor of the AOC Division of Accessioning.  

“I appreciate Chief Justice Minton for bringing together all of the parties who use court records to figure out a plan for retaining necessary records and destroying those that have little or no value,” said Judge Wine. 

“Above all,” he said, “this is an exercise in cooperation between the Executive and Judicial branches in carrying out a mandate given by the Legislative Branch. In 1977 the legislature gave the chief justice of Kentucky statutory authority to determine how court records are to be maintained. For 30 years the public has trusted the Supreme Court to carry out this responsibility. We are now asking agencies that use these records to work with the Judicial Branch to decide what to destroy and what to keep.” 

Judge Wine said the committee will have three goals: “Our first priority is to ensure community safety by keeping the records prosecutors need to effectively prosecute individuals who have committed crimes against the commonwealth. Secondly, people are allowed to seek expungement of their criminal records under certain circumstances and we want the records to be available for them to do that. And finally, we have a fiscal responsibility that requires us to appropriately spend limited state funds.” 

Based on KRS 26A.200-220, the AOC created a records retention policy in 1977 to address the cost and space involved in housing court records long-term. The policy called for misdemeanor records to be stored for at least five years before being destroyed. The policy was revised in 1996 and 2005. The 2005 amendment protected records that could be used to enhance future felony offenses and allowed the destruction of electronic copies of already purged paper records.  

The records retention process came to the forefront in late 2006 when the AOC, following current guidelines, destroyed records in Jefferson County. Prosecutors and others called for a change to the records retention policy, maintaining that the destruction of records eliminated information necessary for enhancing the charges of offenders and other significant uses. After a panel recommended changes to the policy, the AOC announced in April 2007 that the destruction of all court records would be halted statewide until the issue could be further reviewed. 

The AOC is currently storing 33,335 cubic feet of court records at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives in Frankfort at an annual cost of $4.56 per cubic foot, or approximately $152,000 per year. Of that total, 28,482 cubic feet are permanent records that cannot be destroyed under the current guidelines. Also of that total, 5,058 cubic feet of records are those that would have been destroyed under the current guidelines had destruction not been halted in 2007. 

The AOC is the operational arm of the Kentucky Court of Justice and supports the activities of 4,000 court system employees, including the elected offices of justices, judges and circuit court clerks. The AOC also executes the Judicial Branch budget. 

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