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Next Steps: CaseNet records changes

As elected officials vacate Jefferson City and return to their families and jobs, The Missouri Times is bringing you updates on big initiatives that didn’t quite make it through before May 17. The “Next Steps” series will showcase progress made on certain legislative issues and offer a look ahead to what could come.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — While he believes Missouri’s court case management system is one of the best in the nation, Rep. Bruce DeGroot thinks there can be some improvements to it — something he’s deemed a priority for next session. 

CaseNet allows the general public to search most court records, from docket entries to judgments to charges filed in courts that have implemented the Missouri Court Automation Program’s case management software. 

In February, DeGroot introduced a bill that would remove misdemeanor cases from any state court’s automated case management system after five years. HB 1221 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it stalled. 

The Republican lawyer said he filed it to get attention but plans to make reforming CaseNet more of a priority in the coming session. He wants to see certain crimes, such as traffic violations or misdemeanors, either be removed from the system or moved to a level only accessible by certain people.  

“I have dealt with a lot of clients who 5-, 10-, 15-years later have a youthful indiscretion following them around on CaseNet available for literally the whole world to see,” DeGroot told The Missouri Times. “I’ve also recently dealt with a woman who 20-years ago made a bad decision and now wants to go back to nursing school but is finding that CaseNet is putting a damper on that idea.” 

DeGroot said he’d be open to ideas from his colleagues on just how to tweak CaseNet. For now, his original plan would have these transgressions hidden or wiped from CaseNet after five years but would still be available to law enforcement officials and prosecuting attorneys. 

“Once people have paid their debt to society, they should be free of that and free to be able to get back and resume their lives without this hanging over them and prohibiting them from being able to get back into the workforce,” DeGroot said. 

In the interim, DeGroot said he will be talking to people who are interested and establish a more concrete plan for reform. 

He did, however, praise the Missouri Supreme Court for its work on CaseNet. 

“Now it’s very easy to use, not only by law enforcement and the courts but the general public, and it’s free,” he said. “In my opinion, we have one of the best systems in the United States. I think that’s important to recognize.”

In his State of the Judiciary address earlier this year, then-Chief Justice Zel Fischer did say lawmakers would need to approve additional funding for CaseNet to improve and implement system updates for the decades-old technology.