Sun Investigates

Maryland courts shut down access to public terminals

For years Ellicott City traffic ticket attorney David H. Weinstein happily relied on a clever system to drum up business.

When he had a client heading to court, he'd use a public terminal to pull up the names of every other defendant who would be in court at the same time and mail them postcards offering his services.


But a rule change designed to guard against the use of court records for identity theft has led officials to shut off access to the terminals. Officials are directing Weinstein and other members of the public to the case search website, where personal information is more tightly controlled.

"Up until July 1, I could walk into the courthouse and pull the information up," Weinstein said. "Nobody stopped anyone doing anything on those machines."


Case search is a powerful tool with a number of search options, but it cannot be used to find a list of all the cases appearing in a particular court on a particular day. Court officials said the terminals can potentially be used to access records that contain Social Security numbers, and financial and medical information.

Terri Bolling, a spokeswoman for the court system, said a technology board will be reviewing terminal access.

"At issue is the fact that you could be in the court's mainframe system and get access to the non-public information," she said. "That access has been restricted."

Weinstein — who is not seeking access to the restricted personal information — said he recognizes his search for clients is not the most noble reason to crusade for information freedom, but sees the courts' measures as overkill and in conflict with the "presumption of openness" guaranteed by the rules.

"I just want to get my business the way I got my business," he added.

Unintended consequences of the rules changes, which are part of the groundwork to roll out electronic court records statewide, have caused other headaches. A change to purge dates of birth from filings was reversed after prosecutors and victims' groups argued that it would make it impossible to charge certain age-related crimes and serve protective orders.