Earlier today we received the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in our ongoing litigation against Benton County Court Clerk Jennifer Jones. The Court agreed with PBSA that our members’ record requests are not requests for compiled information for purposes of AR Administrative Order 19 and therefore are not subject to the access limitations imposed by Clerk Jones. Justice Hudson writes in part:
The process described by Jones that is needed to identify and copy all existing court records relating to a specific person may be tedious and require multiple steps; however, this is not akin to selecting certain information from multiple cases and then aggregating or reformulating that information into a new court record. The fact that the Bentonville Division uses what the circuit court referred to as an “antiquated” computer system does not change the nature of the information requested or transform existing court records into “compiled information.” While Jones relies on an Attorney General Opinion indicating that requests for background checks are governed by the compiled-information provisions of Order 19, these opinions are not binding precedent on this court.

A plain reading of Order 19 and its commentary support PBSA’s position that the July 2018 request by Courthouse Concepts was not one for compiled information. Accordingly, the July 2018 request was not governed by any of the access limitations described in Order 19, and the circuit court was correct in determining that the FOIA applied to the request…

We therefore affirm the circuit court’s award of summary judgment to PBSA on its FOIA claim.
This case was on appeal brought by Jones late last year and PBSA cross-appealed. Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court on Thursday, October 22, 2020. Burr Forman’s Travis Ramey did an excellent job representing PBSA in oral argument with an engaged bench. PBSA was supported with three amicus briefs from (1) Consumer Data Industry Association/Sue Weaver CAUSE/Coalition for Sensible Records Access; (2) National Consumer Reporting Association; and (3) Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Members can watch the oral arguments via YouTube.

Please look for additional information from PBSA over the next several days as we communicate with Benton County and the several other Arkansas courts that were withholding access while awaiting this decision. As we have learned during COVID shutdowns, turning access back on can take a bit of time and inevitably includes backlogs of requests. We will update the membership as soon as we have communicated with the courts and record access is returned.

Much thanks to all of our members for supporting this initiative, our friends and allies for their support as amici, and Burr Forman legal counsel Zach Miller and Travis Ramey who provided excellent counsel on behalf of PBSA and our members throughout the course of this litigation.
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