June 16, 1998
TO: ccinfo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions.
The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your
Dear Ms. Margeson:
I have received your recent communication in which you asked whether "lists of
unclaimed court and trust funds from the Surrogate Court [are] available through FOIL."
In this regard, the Freedom of Information Law pertains to agency records, and º86(3)
of that statute defines the term "agency" to include:
"any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division,
commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council,
office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or
proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities
thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature."
In turn, º86(1) defines the term "judiciary" to mean:
"the courts of the state, including any municipal or district court,
whether or not of record."
Based on the foregoing, the Freedom of Information Law does not pertain to the
courts or court records. This is not to suggest that court records are confidential; on the
contrary, court records in many instances must be made available by the court or court
clerk. In the case of a Surrogate's Court, º2501 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act
states in relevant part that:
"1. The clerk of the court shall keep a record of and be responsible
for the proper indexing, filing or recording, as the case may be,
collating, arranging, restoring and preserving of all records,
documents, books, maps, instruments and other matter specified in
this article or by other requirement of law heretofore or hereafter
deposited, filed or recorded, of all matters specified by this article or
by other requirement of law...
8. All books and records other than those sealed are open to
inspection of any person at reasonable times."
Therefore, insofar as records in which you are interested are maintained by a Surrogate's
Court, I believe that they would be available, except to the extent that the records may be
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman