Impatiens Hawkeri, b/k/a Impatients...

Impatiens Hawkeri, b/k/a Impatients…

Update (May 14, 2019): Minnesota Litigator now has remote access to civil case files in Montgomery County, Texas, which uses the same technology vendor as the state of Minnesota uses: Tyler Technologies. It took about 30 seconds to fill out an application. We submitted the application for remote access and we had access within 5 minutes (literally). 

It is truly pathetic and inexcusable that our court system cannot yet figure out how to give its lawyers and citizens remote access to non-confidential civil court records.

Look at the string, below. What is the hold-up? Can anyone tell us???

Update (January, 15, 2019): In October, 2015, Minnesota litigator, Mr. Rick Linsk, wrote in Minnesota Bench & Bar, “As early as July 1, 2016, or else by January 1, 2017, all civil case documents…from Minnesota courts will be remotely accessible…” (See the linked article below.)


We all know that bureaucracies move slowly but this is ridiculous. (Check out our string of posts below.)

The problem is not only that this obviously important access has been withheld for over five years when the federal court system figured this out a decade or more ago. An additional problem is that the Minnesota court system is quite opaque as to what the process is, what the hold-up is, and what the timeline is.

We had the opportunity this week to question Mr. Jeff Shorba, Minnesota’s state court administrator, about this very briefly. “Our fingers are crossed that we might get a pilot program out this calendar year,” we are told. We also learned from Mr. Shorba that, unsurprisingly, the state is working on this with Tyler Technologies, the company that runs the state’s current electronic case filing system. We wonder whether the contract with Tyler has any kind of term or incentive to get this done?

Update (October 12, 2015): Rick Linsk gives an update in the Minnesota State Bar Association’s monthly, Bench & Bar this month on the right of Minnesotans to have remote internet access to public court records: 

The upshot: As early as July 1, 2016, or else by January 1, 2017, all civil case documents and post-conviction criminal case documents from Minnesota courts will be remotely accessible.

This is way overdue in my opinion but  much better late than never.

Update (September 11, 2014): It’s been 150+ days since I asked Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lori Gildea when Minnesotans can expect to have a e-filing system that allows for easier and cheaper public access to court records. (My original post about this is below.) When I had the chance to pose the question to Justice Gildea, she was emphatic that she shared my impatience and conviction that the system needs to be more widely, easily, and cheaply accessible.

I wonder if Justice Gildea’s patience is wearing thin as mine is, along with many Minnesota journalists, Minnesota lawyers, and all citizens who believe that the vast majority of court records are public property. We should all have easy and inexpensive on-line access to them. NOW.

This impatience is heightened because the federal system, PACER, has been around for a decade or so and it works very well.

What is going on?

The impatience is also heightened by virtue of the fact that the judicial system’s response seems to be, “You have no idea how complicated this is,” but there is no explanation as to how complicated this is or why. So, yes, I have no idea how complicated this is.

Maybe someone can explain? I have made a Minnesota Government Data Practices Act request to Jeff Shorba, Minnesota State Court Administrator. I have never done one before and this could take some time. But maybe, just maybe, someone can tell us what the hold-ups are and when we can expect to have a genuinely public and accessible court record system up and running? [Editor’s note: this effort fell flat. Case records and judiciary records about public access to them fall outside of the MGDPA.]

The Fool

Original post (April 1, 2014) (under subject line “Minnesota Court Records Finally Open, Easily Accessible, and Affordable to ALL!!!”): The subject lines is in the nature of a April Fool’s Joke even though it is not funny. Forgive me.

This past week, Chief Judge Lori Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court spoke at the monthly Federal Bar Association luncheon. She congratulated us on what we’re doing best (providing one of the most open and accessible court systems, if not the most open and accessible court system, in the United States), what we are doing well (providing a judicial system that is not only more accessible than almost any court system anywhere but also a court system of which we can be and, for the most part, are very proud of and confident in), and what we are doing next (more and broader use of electronic filing, moving toward transparency and public access to judicial proceedings via greater use of cameras in the courtroom).

Chief Judge Gildea ended her talk by thanking the Minnesota bar for its efforts on behalf of the poor, by urging the Minnesota bar to work hard to make sure that our judicial system gets the funding it needs to provide justice, and by exhorting the Minnesota bar to take an active role in judicial elections which are generally overlooked by the media and therefore, tragically, by most voters. This poses a high risk of a process marred by party domination and/or by special interests rather than a process by which judges are elected by an appropriate representative subset of all of the people of Minnesota.

Then came the heckler.

Chief Justice Gildea threw open the floor to questions and got a single question. From me. I was not actually a heckler, of course, but I did air a beef in what was otherwise a fairly positive — on might even say celebratory — portrayal of our state’s judicial system.

Paraphrasing, roughly, I asked, “If our state court system is so proud of its openness, its accessibility, and its accountability, why is it so far behind the federal court for the district of Minnesota for allowing public access to court filings and court records?”

I was, of course, delighted by Chief Justice Gildea’s emphatic recognition and agreement that, at present, this is a significant short-coming in our state court system. I was delighted that Chief Justice Gildea said that this is a matter that she spends a great deal of time on and that she shares my impatience.

The challenge, the Chief Justice added, is that of confidential information and the privacy of litigants. That challenge, she said, is far greater than one might first appreciate at a glance.

I get that. Kind of. Could there not be a carve-out for family law, juvenile proceedings, criminal law (or some subsets of these large categories)?  How is it that the federal system, which is extremely accessible, has devised a system where sensitive information is shielded from public view thousands and thousands of times every day (social security numbers, birth dates, financial information, business secrets, etc. etc.), but the state of Minnesota cannot figure out how to do the same thing?

I understand that the states have much larger caseloads and much more challenging budgetary constraints.

But still these are the kinds of system shortcomings where some people (and, admittedly, maybe just ignorant people (including me)) query whether government bureaucracies suffer from institutional lethargy and inertia that distort relatively feasible (albeit it complex) tasks into overwhelmingly difficult ones. And a cynic might add that perhaps the ideals of openness and transparency might not be so fervently shared in every dark corner or shadowy chamber throughout the state judicial system.

4 Comments on “When Will Someone Explain Why the Minnesota State Court System Cannot Give Remote Access Yet to Civil Filings?

  1. Adam Gillette

    I had the same thought this morning when I tried to look up some information on a state court lawsuit that someone called me about. The contrast between what one can access on Pacer and what one can access on the Minnesota State Trial Court Public Access page is so stark that one does not know whether to laugh or cry.

  2. Charlie Alden

    This is part of your point, but the “confidential information and privacy of litigants” argument doesn’t square with the fact that you can get any document filed in civil/crim./family, etc., by going to the public records center at any courthouse. Remote access doesn’t let the genie out of the bottle – it lets it out of the public records centers.

    This fact cuts against arguments for the purported current “openness and access.” Only those in the know, know how to get the documents. When I go to a district court records center, often people who have no representation are scouring through the filings in their family law or criminal cases to see “what’s happened” in their cases. This is even more of a problem where folks are sued by debt collection firms and have default judgments entered against them. If they could go to a public access website and see what’s been entered on a docket in which they are a party, they’d be in a better position to help themselves out. Not to mention that if a website was publicly accessible and parties could actually view documents, the courts could make some money. At the “vault,” it’s $10.00 per document. On PACER, it’s $.10/per page. Doesn’t even make financial sense to deny access to what people would otherwise pay a small amount for.

    I don’t see that Tyler Technologies’ platform has anything to do with resolution of this problem. MNCIS ( isn’t linked to Tylerhost, and documents do not go up on MNCIS based on what Tyler accepts as far as I know. Court administration puts things on MNCIS, not Tyler.

    Oh, and if you ask someone in public records when this is happening, you’ll be told that “they’re (the State) is working on it.”

    1. Seth Leventhal

      Thank you for your comment. One small correction: the court system has lowered the price of documents to $8.00 per document. In my view, this is still unjust and unwarranted but at least it is less.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *