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"Title Company v. County Recorder": A Case Study in Open Records Litigation, 1874–1918

Dwayne Cox
The American Archivist
Vol. 67, No. 1 (Spring - Summer, 2004), pp. 46-57
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40294246
Page Count: 12
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"Title Company v. County Recorder": A Case Study in Open Records Litigation, 1874–1918
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Abstract

The common-law tradition inherited by the United States restricted access to public records to those with a direct and tangible interest in the information, such as parties to a lawsuit. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, state appellate courts ruled in a series of cases that revolutionized legal thought on this subject. By the end of World War I, these tribunals increasingly assumed that citizenship itself provided sufficient justification for access to public records. Abstractors and insurers of real estate titles, whose interests were commercial, led the assault upon the common-law tradition that had imposed the more restrictive standard. Suits initiated by those concerned with the misuse of public funds and honest elections played a relatively small role in bringing about this change. The story of this landmark litigation between tide abstract companies and local government officials again demonstrates that custody of public records carries with it risks and responsibilities all too familiar to modern archivists.

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