Judicial Access to Court Records
Jurisdiction and Access to Court Records of Related Cases
Do all judges hearing family cases have jurisdiction and the right to review the contents of other family-related case files?
Yes. “All circuit court judges have the same jurisdiction within their respective circuits.… The internal operation of the court system and the assignment of judges to various divisions does not limit a particular judge’s jurisdiction.” In the Interest of Peterson, 364 So. 2d 98, 99 (Fla. 4th DCA 1978). Since any circuit judge may be called upon to hear any case under the circuit court’s jurisdiction, it is necessary for all judges to have equal access to all court files. Also, in 2014, the Supreme Court created Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.003(a)(1) that states that all related family cases must be handled before one judge unless impractical, and Fla. Fam. L. R. P. 12.004 which states that a judge and court staff can access and review files of any pending or closed related files.
Are there any statutory barriers to a judge’s access to court files in related cases, and if so, how can a family court ensure it operates within those parameters?
Judges must be mindful of matters of confidentiality of court files and the appropriate ways to use files of related cases.
Taking Judicial Notice of Information Found in Other Court Records
When can a judge take judicial notice of documents found in other case files?
The Florida Evidence Code authorizes a court to take judicial notice of its own records, the records of other Florida courts, and records from any other state or federal court of the United States.
Disclosing the Review of Court Records of Related Cases
Does a judge have to disclose the review of related case files to anyone?
Sometimes. If the judge becomes aware of evidentiary matters while reviewing a related case file, the judge must disclose this to the parties and give them an opportunity to respond. A review of purely administrative matters that gives no advantage to any party is not considered ex parte and does not require disclosure to the parties.