Sun reporters get mixed response in records project


Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 6:18 p.m.

Gainesville Sun reporters had varying experiences with clerks in several counties as they participated with The Associated Press Sunshine project — some got the requested records immediately without redaction of any information, while others provided the files after several days.

The Sun searched through court records available online to find cases for which the hard copies would be requested for viewing at courthouses in Alachua, Bradford and Gilchrist counties as part of the AP initiative.

In Alachua County, the clerk told Sun intern Zack Peterson that the files he requested to view would not be available until the Tuesday following his Friday request.

The clerk told Peterson that it would take several days to redact information.

“They were very nice. They said they could get the files I wanted, and they would be available Tuesday morning,” Peterson said. “They redacted the Social Security numbers from the criminal cases.”

Reporter Cindy Swirko went to Bradford County to request the files. The clerk promptly produced the two criminal cases and did not redact the Social Security numbers. Another clerk was helpful in tracking down civil cases and also produced the hard copies promptly.

Sun intern Ayana Stewart had a similar experience in Gilchrist County.

“I was able to get the actual file. No one asked me to identify myself. They followed the rules,” Stewart said. “The only thing out of the ordinary is that I could see the Social Security numbers in the criminal files.”

Stewart also covered Clay County in the project for The Associated Press, and had a more unpleasant experience at the courthouse in Green Cove Springs.

“I politely requested the physical files and the clerk just looked at me and said ‘What do you need these for because I don’t have time to go back and pull these files.’ I told her I was a journalist working on a project and it is imperative that I see these,” Stewart said. “She called the guy in records and said, ‘I have this little girl here who wants to see files.’ Long story short, I didn’t see the files.”

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