For the better part of a month, courts around the nation have been reopening after suspending operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is great news for consumer reporting agencies that are trying to fill client requests. For criminal background checks that are fulfilled via automated court research, it's been mostly business as usual. However, in-person research has been more challenging in many courts throughout the country.
Here are some of the obstacles:
- Some courts only allow researchers on an appointment-only basis.
- Some courts have caps on the number of researchers allowed inside at one time. For example, Bartow County in Georgia only allows three people in the lobby at one time and a maximum of four researchers in their records room at one time.
- Some courts have removed or blocked public access terminals to enforce social distancing, which often cuts researcher availability by half or more.
- Some courts are limiting the amount of time you can use these public access terminals. In Cook County, IL, they limit it to 45-minute sessions.
And some courts are doing a combination — or all — of the above.
Courts are also enforcing strong safety guidelines for researchers.
Luckily, the courts around the nation are following the CDC guidelines, many even going above and beyond.
It's almost without exception that courts are requiring PPE when entering. Nearly all courts are also asking researchers health-related questions at entry. Many courts are also performing temperature checks to ensure that only healthy individuals (or at least asymptomatic) are entering the court.
As far as how courts look inside, we have been reassured there as well. Courts are sanitizing surfaces and wiping down terminals, and many courts have even installed plexiglass separators between terminals.
County-level data around court limitations:
Our team has been proactively tracking what counties are doing. Here are some of the key stats:
- Appointment/Limited Times – 165 Counties
- Limited Capacity – 90 Counties
- Require Temp Checks – 16 Counties
- Civil Search Only – 2 Counties
- Clears Only – 5 Counties
What this all means for CRAs and End-Users:
The positive news is this: the courts are reopening and allowing in-person research where they weren't before. There is a clear emphasis on safety and following CDC guidelines, which makes researchers feel safer when conducting this necessary work.
With that safety comes reduced capacity. You should expect longer turnaround times due to limitations on the number of researchers allowed in the courts, availability of appointments, availability of public access terminals, and a cap on the amount of time that researchers can use the court resources. We may also see higher prices for in-court research.
In addition, many CRAs and end-users have a significant backlog of requests that came in while the courts are closed. These need to be completed along with new requests.
Below, we have some additional pictures that our researchers have sent us in recent weeks.