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Public Access Policy Requirements Begin January 6, 2018

January 3, 2018

by Yvonne Crouse

Effective on January 6, 2018, the PA Supreme Court’s “Public Access Policy” adds significant new requirements related to information contained in documents filed in Pennsylvania’s courts, including the Orphans’ Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas.  The policy is said to balance the public’s access to court records with individual privacy rights and concerns.

With the enactment of this new policy, the PA Supreme Court has simply caught up with our corporate fiduciary clients who already guard their client’s personal information.

On January 6, 2018. information that will be deemed to be “confidential” includes: social security numbers, financial account numbers, driver license numbers, state identification numbers; name and date of birth of minors and abuse victim’s contact information.  A full listing of what constitutes “confidential” information is set forth in the body of the policy.

Confidential information may not be included in the body of a filing or in documents filed with pleadings; the sensitive information must be redacted or duplicate copies (one redacted, one not redacted) must be filed.  Each court – in the case of Orphans’ Court matter, each county court and each appellate court – will issue administrative orders to instruct parties and their counsel on how the policy will be implemented in each court.  Some county Court Administrators and Clerks will inevitably have unique requirements for compliance. Initially, it is advisable to contact the filing office in advance of filing.  We are beginning to see counties issue their administrative orders in anticipation of the January 6th effective date.

Dockets already under seal as a matter of law, such as guardianships and adoptions, are exempt from the Public Access Policy requirements.

A number of forms were adopted along with the Policy.  Access to the required forms and additional information can be found at here.

Adherence to the policy is placed with the filing party and counsel.  Parties or their counsel must certify their compliance with the Court at the time of filing.  Filing offices and court administration are under no obligation to review filing for compliance prior to accepting documents for filing.  Filing parties are cautioned that the Court may impose sanctions for failure to comply.

A useful summary of the requirements can be found here.

Please contact members of the Orphans’ Court Litigation Group at McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC if you have any questions about the Public Access Policy Requirements or if we can be of assistance in complying with the new policy.

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