Recently, our community became aware of a move in the US Federal Courts to dispose of large numbers of court records. This is not as draconian as it may seem at first read. We checked in with the National Archives and Records Administration – just to make sure this destruction was known to and approved by them. It is. NARA told us:
Under the prior schedule for district court civil case files,
only the case files that went to trial were scheduled as
permanent; all non-trial cases were temporary and
subject to disposal.
Under the new schedule, which was developed after an
extensive appraisal and public notice and comment
process, there are now a number of non-trial case files
that are permanent, based on their "nature of suit
codes." The remaining non-trial case files are
presumptively temporary (with a 15 year retention),
unless they have been determined on a case-by-case
basis by "court officials or NARA to have historical
value." The web-posting by the W.D. of Michigan is a
discretionary effort to solicit public input into the
case-by-case review process.
Accordingly, the new schedule will result in a
significantly larger number of cases being retained as
permanent, but also authorizes the destruction, after 15
years, of the large number of non-historical case files.
It is likely that the public comment opportunity was provided in the Federal Register, under a notice about Records Schedules Available for Review. Not the sort of thing that usually gets the attention it may warrant.