Task Force meets to preserve court records

The Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force had its first meeting yesterday at the Supreme Court of Texas. The 20 member task force was formed to discuss the issues surrounding preservation of local court records in counties across the state. The task force is chaired by Bill Kroger of Baker Botts L.L.P. and was created partly from the awareness of Kroger’s work on preserving Harris County court records. The Supreme Court wrote a court order establishing the task force and has asked them to develop a report that discusses statewide county preservation needs, the importance of protecting the records, and providing assistance to counties to do that.

The meeting included presentations about larger counties' preservation efforts, resources available to counties regarding historical records preservation, and prior efforts made across the state. The task force circulated a draft survey that they intend to distribute to district court clerks statewide to gather information about their efforts. The survey will go out within the next 30 days, and they hope to complete the survey 60 days after that. At the meeting, they also formed four different committees for different aspects of the issue: preservation, security and enforcement, fundraising, and public and education.

Issues that courts often run into are old and crumbling documents, fire hazards, water damage, lack of security, and determining rules for public access, such as whether the public should be allowed to touch historical court documents with their hands. There have also been many thefts of court records. "One of the most egregious was with a court minute book in Lufkin. Someone was taking pages being ripped out of the minute book and selling them on eBay," says Kroger. "Some people are tearing apart court records and auctioning them off. There’s a market for slavery records and Republic of Texas records. We are trying to stop people from stealing and selling them. There needs to be greater recognition that it is a crime and greater enforcement of those laws."

The main records the task force are looking at date from 1838 to 1950. Those are the records that are of interest to collectors, historians, and genealogists. The task force wants to protect the historical records for future generations.

The Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force is co-chaired by Mark Lambert, Deputy Commissioner of the Archives and Records Division of the Texas General Land Office, and is comprised of a diverse and mutli-disciplined group of people including attorneys, judges, historians, document preservationists, and county and statewide officials. They plan to meet about six times a year and to continue their initial efforts for about a year and a half. However, the preservation of all statewide historical court records will be an ongoing effort. For more information about the task force and its efforts, you can contact Bill Kroger at (713) 229-1736 or email him at bill.kroger@bakerbotts.com.
 

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