Secret court records damage society

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The new administration owes it to the public for a complete top down review of the draconian interpretation of the country’s data laws that allowed the Poder Judicial to shut down alphabetical access to its index of civil and criminal court cases in 2012. Prior to this arbitrary shutdown by Supreme Court Judge Roman Solis Zelaya, anybody with internet access could search the court’s public database to see if a person or corporation had any civil or criminal cases on file.

As I understand the history of this case, some wife beater didn’t like his name in the system and complained to the supreme court, which in turn removed this function solely based on this judge’s ruling. He also restricted access to the file documenting this wife beater’s misbehavior.

Lena White Curling, a functionary from the Poder Judicial at the time, stated that only a member of the Assembly could introduce a law to re-open these files. This means that a resident of Costa Rica could have a convicted child molester or murderer living in the next house over, or worse, next to a school yard, and no one would have the ability to check this out. Now, I fully understand about protection of privacy (I’m a card carrying member of the ACLU), but these records belong to in public view, not restricted to a few unknown people who have access.

Court systems that remain shuttered and secret belong in the dustbin of history along with all of the Latin American dictatorships that supported this type of secrecy in the past. I tried repeatedly to find out who had the passwords to this system and was rebuffed by Poder Judicial. Information is power and leaving this access in the hands of a small group of functionaries that can be politically manipulated is a disservice to the democracy that we all love here in Costa Rica. To make matters worse, when these records were shut down in 2012, a staff attorney from my office was immediately approached by a functionary in the court offering to sell access to the system. As our office not only abides by the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and, in fact, we enforce it for our clients, our staff attorney politely turned down the offer. I don’t think this is the type of free market capitalism that the current president is supporting. Now I have been informed that a man was recently arrested who works in the central offices because he has been selling criminal records (rap sheets) maintained by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

I have been instrumental in conducting due diligence investigations to place branches of multi-national corporations in Costa Rica which brings jobs and capital into the country. It is routine to check the civil and criminal index on both the principals and corporations in which my clients wish to do business. Subsequent to this rule change in 2012, I have not placed one company in Costa Rica. Whether or not this data restriction has an effect on my clients’ decision making, I do not know. But I do have my suspicions.
Seth Derish
Chico, California

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