In Indiana, most all cases that flow through the court system are not confidential. In other words, your name and all your legal business are potentially publicly available1. There are some cases, or persons involved in the case, that are automatically kept confidential, and only the parties and attorneys can access the court files, such as matters that fall under the Indiana Civil Protective Order Act, Juvenile Paternity (children born out of wedlock) matters, Mental Health Cases, Adoption Cases, Children In Need of Services (CHINS) cases, and the names of victims and witnesses of a crime2. However, even when these cases go up to the Indiana Court of Appeals or Indiana Supreme Court, they lose their confidential status, and the briefs and opinions are publicly available for view.
Thus, how does one protect his or her anonymity? Indiana’s Administrative Court rules carves out a narrow exception in some cases to protect the anonymity of certain persons, such that, even though briefs and court papers are publicly available, they do not reveal the specific identity of the persons involved in addition to setting out particular types of cases that are wholly kept confidential. Specifically, even though appellate briefs and opinions are public, the parties are generally referred to by initials (A.J.) or by a descriptive term (Mother) so as to promote the anonymity of a person in a confidential matter. Children’s names especially fall under this rule, and will usually appear in briefs and opinions referenced by his or her initials. The purpose of this rule is to promote accessibility to court records and government accountability while protecting public safety, minimizing the risk of injury to persons involved in the cases, and protect a person’s privacy rights and interests.
A recent Indiana Court of Appeals case addressed the issue of anonymity as it relates to changing one’s name. In general, a petition to change your name is NOT an anonymous or confidential matter. In fact, there are certain persons, such as incarcerated individuals, who may not petition the court to change their names3. Additionally, if a person wishes to change his or her name, or the name of their child, upon filing a petition with the court, they must also publish notice of their court case in 3 weekly newspaper publications. Presumably, this is to protect people from changing their names anonymously for various unconscionable reasons (i.e. there is an arrest warrant for them).
In In Re the Name Change of Jane Doe4, the Court of Appeals addressed the issue of a Mother and Child who wished to change their names to escape an abusive Husband/Father, who had violated a protective order multiple times, kidnapped, harassed, and stalked them even after he was punished for violating the protective order by being required to have his movements tracked by GPS. The Court of Appeals opined that Mother and Child could have utilized Administrative Rule 9 in the proceedings to keep their names confidential when publishing notice of their petition for a name change, and that was the proper remedy available by statute to maintain anonymity.
We hope that this blog post has been helpful in understanding how and when you can maintain confidentiality and anonymity in public court papers. Every case is different, and it is recommended that you consult an attorney to determine the best course of action to achieve your goals in your specific case. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori Schmeltzer.