February 6, 2006
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 correspondence.
We are in receipt of your request for assistance with regard to the denial of your request for records from the Buffalo City Court. Please note that while the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions concerning the application of the New York State Freedom of Information Law, this office does not maintain records on behalf of other agencies, and we do not have any records of the Buffalo City Court.
In response to the events as you relate them, however, we offer the following comments.
First, since it appears that you seek access to court records, we point out that the Freedom of Information Law pertains to agency records, and §86(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, §86(1) defines "judiciary" to mean:
"the courts of the state, including any municipal or district court, whether or not of record."
In view of the foregoing, the courts and court records are not subject to the Freedom of Information Law. This is not intended to suggest that court records cannot be obtained. Although the courts are not subject to the Freedom of Information Law, court records are generally available under other provisions of law (see e.g., Judiciary Law, §255).
Second, because you were informed that the records you requested have been destroyed, we note that city courts and their employees are subject to §31.1(a) of the Rules of the Chief Judge, which state in relevant part that:
"The Chief Administrator of the Courts, upon consultation with the Administrative Board of the Courts, shall adopt rules providing for the retention and disposition of the records of the courts of the Unified Court System..." .
Based on §104.3(a) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator,
"Any court seeking to dispose of court records shall make a written request for such disposal to the Deputy Chief Administrator for Management Support."
Accordingly, in 1997, the Division of Court Operations Office of Records Management published the Records Retention and Disposition Schedule for Criminal Records of the City of New York, City Courts, District Courts and Town and Village Courts, which provides for the systematic destruction of court records after certain periods of time based on the type and content of the record.
We note that generally, pursuant to this schedule, misdemeanor and felony criminal case files, if resolved in favor of the defendant, are retained for six years, grand jury case files are retained for one year, and cases with are disposed are scheduled to be retained for twenty-five years.
We hope this helps to clarify your understanding of the Freedom of Information Law, and that this is of assistance to you.
Camille S. Jobin-Davis