FORT MYERS, Fla. A highly sensitive court document related to a Lee County child abuse case was made publicly available online for several hours last month.
The information released on the Lee County Clerk of Court website contained graphic details that only a judge and those involved in the case were supposed to see — and it’s prompted Clerk of Court Linda Doggett to redouble efforts to protect data.
“Open records are great — they are very beneficial — but they also come with a risk and a burden to those who have to try to protect certain information,” Doggett said.
Prosecutors in the case had filed a notice asking that the entire document be confidential, but someone within the clerk’s office misread the form, according to Doggett.
“This incident made us re-evaluate,” Doggett said. “We retrained all of our clerks. We’ve done several sessions of question and answers about what the process should be for each.”
It’s not the first time sensitive information from the clerk’s office found its way online.
A software upgrade in February caused the names of 45 crime victims and 12 civil sexual violence victims to be displayed online. Another software upgrade that month put 24 Social Security numbers online.
All of those issues were corrected with 24 hours, the clerk of court’s office said.
Attorneys and law enforcement also play a role in keeping information confidential. The address of a woman who was a victim of stalking had her home address listed in a police report that became public because her address is the address where the crime took place.
“I can understand no one is perfect, everyone makes human error,” the victim said. “However, as a victim, I expect protection, and to see that happen, it kind of made me lose faith.”
WINK News has chosen not to identify the woman or the law enforcement agency involved in the case to protect her identity.
Clerk of courts staff has been meeting with members of the legal community to streamline the process of filing forms in an effort to keep more confidential information from getting out, Doggett said.
They’re also going back and looking at five years’ worth of cases to determine how often it’s happened.