Just about the only thing you can count on when searching for information through access to public records is that there is little if any consistency. Shrinking state and municipal budgets have an obvious impact on your access to public records.
Entities that got into setting up sophisticated on-line access to information early will no doubt be able to continue to do. However, there is not guarantee that will be the case. While Sacramento County continues to maintain some of the best on-line services that I have worked with, the San Joaquin County Court (Stockton, CA) shut down its on-line index in the last year or so. Initially the site posted a notice that it was complying with State rules regarding limiting access to birth, death and marriage records. That excuse made no sense because all the other California Counties did not seem to share that interpretation. It seemed to be a matter of cost and only one of cost. Now a search of San Joaquin County Court records requires a trip to the courthouse in Stockton. In the past, such a trip would be avoided. Now you have to find time during the work week to conduct an in person search just to see if there any files that may be of interest.
Here in Sacramento County, access to records has been reduced by cuts to the number of staff working in the records departments of the County Courts. The most noticeable effects appear in the Family Law Records Department. A recent effort to gain access to a file took six (6) hours. The first three were spent waiting in line to order a file that was stored in archives. Seven (7) days later when the file was available, another three (3) hours were spent waiting in line to get the file, review its six or so pages of material and return it. The reason for the delay is simply explained by the presence of fewer people working behind the counter.
One other example of how access to information is becoming limited due to budget constraints appears in Los Angeles County, where you have to set up a credit card account to gain access to the on-line case index. If you don’t have a credit card, you need to drive to one the several court houses in LA County and do the your search the old-fashioned way, by hand.
In each of these cases reduced access is not the result of re-characterizing the status of a document, it is simply the result of tougher economic times.