The Connecticut court system has decided to move required public notices out of newspapers, preferring to list them on its own website instead. We say that in the interests of transparency the court system should be looking to add outlets of information, not subtract them.
Chris VanDeHoef, executive director of the Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association, put it more severely:
“State government’s thirst for keeping information out of the public hands knows no bounds,” he told the Associated Press. “Every branch of government in our state should be focused on getting information that is pertinent to the citizens of Connecticut out in as many places as possible — not fewer.”
In this context, it’s important to note that not a single bill in last year’s legislative session that would have dropped the requirement for local governments to post public notices in newspapers passed. That means those elected to represent the interests of the public have rejected the idea. And Connecticut is not alone in its legislative resistance to the change. According to an AP report, bills in 11 state legislatures that involved removing notices from newspapers did not make it out of committee.
Thus there’s no indication that the court system is operating in the public interest with this decision, and the Judicial Branch statement that the move will save time and expense “and provide greater accuracy and broader notice than newspaper publication” appears to lack evidence or specifics. Public notices, a revenue source for newspapers, are an expense, but as the AP reported, “Judicial Branch officials said they could not immediately provide figures on how much the judiciary spends on legal notices or how many legal notices it pays for each year, because that information is not separated out in record keeping of advertising costs.”
The majority of notices at play in this decision are for those involved in civil and family court cases who can’t be located because of unknown addresses.
“Nobody goes to a government agency internet site unless he already is looking for something specifically,” Chris Powell, former managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, told the AP.
“Government agency internet sites don’t have general audiences,” said Powell, whose column regularly appears in the Record-Journal. “But newspapers still do. As a result, newspapers continue to provide a real opportunity for regular people to get notice of things they would not ordinarily be aware of or know to look for.”
When it comes to the public interest, it’s clear this move by the court system doesn’t make sense. Since the role of government is to serve the public, a reversal of the decision would seem in order.