A new media search tool for Iowa Courts Online

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Reporters who search for court records at county courthouses will find the process far easier thanks to a new search program installed by the Iowa court system.

The most important news is that reporters will no longer have to fork over 50-cents a page to the clerk of court to see what cases have been filed. What’s more, the new program is far easier to use than the previous program, and it is much easier to find on public terminals at the courthouses.

Some history on the program:

Back in the days when lawyers filed paper court documents in the court clerks offices, the documents were dropped into a basket on the counter for anyone to search through (since court documents are public records).

Reporters typically checked these baskets each day to see what new lawsuits were filed.

That ended when the Iowa court system converted to electronic filing. Now, lawyers – and members of the public who represent themselves – are able to file court documents online, and those documents disappear into the court system’s electronic database. You have to know the case number or a party’s name in order to find court documents online.

Faced with the prospect of reporters no longer being able to see what new cases have been filed, the Iowa courts in collaboration with the Iowa Newspaper Association created a substitute that allowed reporters to search for new court filings within a certain date range – say, today, the past week, or over a two-week period some time in the past.

It was an imperfect solution, however.

The program was hard to find on courthouse terminals (it required two different user names and passwords), it was tricky to use, and rather than displaying the list of cases on the screen, it automatically kicked out an order for a paper printout. That could get expensive since users never knew how many pages a search would produce.

That was then. Now, reporters simply log onto the public terminal and click on the EPA Courthouse icon on the desktop to open the Iowa Courts Online search program. On the screen users will find a link to “Newspaper/Abstractor Reports” to open a page that has a field for searching for cases within a specific date range.

Users can choose between seeing search results on the screen as a web page or as an Excel spreadsheet, which can be downloaded onto a thumb drive or emailed by accessing an email account online. Reporters can still order a printout of the search results, but at least they will have an idea of how much it will cost.

While this new program is a huge improvement over the old one, it gives users access to only cases filed in the courthouse where the search is done. In other words, a reporter using a public terminal in Story County will see only Story County cases.

The Iowa Newspaper Association and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council continue to work with the Iowa courts to take the next logical step and allow date-range searches online. Until that day, this is a huge improvement.

[For a more complete description of how to use the new search program and a list of public terminal user names and passwords for all Iowa county courthouses, go to the Iowa Newspaper Association website at inanews.com, or at the Iowa Freedom of Information site, ifoic.org.]

Download the Iowa District Court Public Access User Reports