Criminal charges, divorce filings updated on Utah’s Right

10 08 2013

Worried about that guy who’s dating your daughter?

I”ve updated the criminal charges and divorces databases on Utah’s Right, with data from Jan. 1, 1997, to Aug. 2, 2013. The data does not include people whose cases were dismissed or handled through diversion or plea-in-abeyance agreements.

I also delete criminal charges that have been expunged, once I receive a copy of the expungement order.

Even taking out those cases, the databases are still extensive. There are 883,792 criminal charges listed in the database, an increase of 5,069 since the June update.

On the divorce side, we have 146,897 cases online, which is 4,058 more than there were in June.

Bear in mind, just because you found a person’s name in the database, that is not positive identification. The courts do not provide dates of birth in the data requests. So, please verify identities with another source before basing a decision on what you see on the site.

Advertisements




Colorado city wants to ban people taking pictures of public records

13 06 2013

Durango, Colo., officials are trying to close what they see as a public-records loophole that is costing them money.

The Durango Herald reports that the city is proposing an ordinance that would ban people from photographing public records they request. It seems people are using their cellphones and tablet computers to get around photocopying fees by taking pictures of the documents.

The city charges 25 cents per page after the first 10 pages, whether the information is photocopied or scanned for emailing, along with billing for the employee’s time to prepare the files. Colorado’s records law, like Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, allow people to inspect public documents for free.

So far in Utah, it’s perfectly legal to take pictures of the documents without having to pay a fee. Even HB477 didn’t try to outlaw that practice.

City Clerk Amy Phillips told the paper that city workers will consolidate documents for a records request, and expect the person to come in and pick which ones should be copied.

“[B]ut we’re finding out now that people are able to come in with a phone and just (photograph) the copies,” Phillips said. “Then we don’t retrieve the money we spent.”

Along with a photo ban, the city is also proposing a $30-per-hour fee to for gathering the documents.

The proposal goes to a City Council vote on Tuesday.





2013 Legislature: Not worst on open-government issues, but could have done better

10 04 2013

If the 2011 Utah State Legislature, which railroaded HB477 through, was regarded as the worst for access to public records, 2013 was a significant improvement.

“In the end, it was good for open government,” said Linda Petersen, president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

One noticeable difference: Legislators were more willing to consult with the Utah Media Coalition — which includes The Salt Lake Tribune and other Utah media outlets — on open-government bills. In contrast, HB477, which gutted the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), was written in closed-door meetings and rushed through committee meetings in the waning days of the Legislature.

“I never saw so much effort by the Legislature to include the media,” Petersen said. “They still have the notion that open government is about media access.” Petersen said open government is for all Utahns, and journalists use it as representatives of the public.

But lawmakers could have done better, as they allowed some bills to pass that restricted access to public records such as Utah Transit Authority trip data and jail booking photos.

“I’ll give them an A-minus or a B-plus,” said Joel Campbell, associate professor of print journalism at Brigham Young University. “They rejected some bills that would have closed access to government records and passed bills that gave access.”

On the plus side, legislators passed SB77, Sen. Deidre Henderson’s bill requiring recordings and written minutes of public meetings to be posted on the state’s public meeting notice website. Campbell said the Spanish Fork Republican’s bill puts the meeting records together in one place, rather than having people looking all over the Internet for different websites.

Henderson’s other open-government bill, SB283, is one that, Campbell says, looks good on the surface. It directs the state’s Transparency Advisory Board to look at making more public records available on the state’s Transparency website.

But, Campbell noted the details give cause for concern. The board’s final recommendations have to be approved by the Legislature, a body Campbell said has been too willing to close access to public records.

SB94, Sen. Curt Bramble’s open-government bill creates an online repository lawmakers can place email into, so the public can see it without having to file a GRAMA request. It also takes away the state auditor’s seat on the State Records Committee, making it a public seat.

Campbell said the email repository looks good on paper, until one realizes that participation in it is voluntary. He doesn’t see too many legislators willing to contribute to it if left to their own devices.

And the records-committee provision is a point of concern for Campbell and others. In December, incoming State Auditor John Dougall — who sponsored HB477 when he was in the Legislature — fired Betsy Ross, the auditor’s representative on the committee.

Ross was an opponent to HB477 and regarded as a champion of open government.

The Legislature did shoot down HB307, Rep. Brian Greene’s proposal to strip birthdates off public records such as voter rolls and court records. Greene, a Pleasant Grove Republican, claimed the bill was necessary to protect Utahns from identity theft and elder abuse, even though critics — including the leaders of the state Democratic and Republican parties — pointed out that there is no case where someone used public records to commit identity theft.

But the Legislature also failed to pass Rep. Kraig Powell’s HB207, which would have required public entities to post meeting notices three days before a meeting. Campbell said that would have provided people with more information on what public entities are doing, but it was watered down at the request of the Utah League of Cities and Towns on the grounds that it could open cities to lawsuits if someone questioned whether any last-minute agenda items were truly “unforseen.”

Campbell and Petersen noted a few bills restricting public access did get through.

SB12, sponsored by Vernal Republican Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, makes Utah Transit Authority trip data a protected record. Van Tassell said it would bar people from using GRAMA to find out if their spouse is cheating on them by using UTA to visit a paramour.

Another bill was HB408, Rep. Paul Ray’s bill requiring people who want copies of mug shots to sign a statement swearing that they won’t post the pictures on websites that charge people to remove them. The Clearfield Republican said it was necessary to protect people who had been arrested and either not charged or had the case dismissed from being haunted by the mug shot.

Campbell said those bills highlight the need for a committee with expertise in open-government issues to review bills and make recommendations.

 





It’s now the law: No mug shots for those who charge to take them down

2 04 2013

Yesterday, Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill that forces people who want copies of mugshots to swear that they won’t post it on websites that charge to remove them.

HB408, sponsored by Clearfield Republican Rep. Paul Ray, subjects violators to the same penalties as those who lie to police officers. Ray said he sponsored the bill at the request of Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, who  was concerned about the proliferation of mug shot magazines and websites.

Ray and Winder said the sites were not fair to people who had been arrested, not charged and were trying to get on with their lives, only to find their booking photos available through a Google search.

“The purpose of these mug shots is to identify criminals,” Winder told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee during a hearing on the bill, “not bully or harass citizens.”

Some of the sites offer to take down a mug shot, but only after a fee is paid. While slcmugshots.com states it will take down mug shots for free if proof that a charge has been dismissed or the person was acquitted was provided, it also runs ads for a firm that charges for “immediate removal” of mug shots from the Internet.

Winder’s office no longer posts mug shots online, while the Utah County Sheriff’s Office only posts tiny thumbnail shots that cannot be enlarged easily. The Weber County Sheriff’s Office still provides online access to mug shots

But open-government advocates warn that the bill sets a dangerous precedent of government demanding to know what someone intends to do with public information.

“The whole purpose of GRAMA is if a record is public, you should have it and not have to explain why,” Hunt said.