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Appraisal of US District Court Records

by on August 10, 2011


Recent articles have implied that the US District Courts are destroying records in an effort to save money on their storage costs. This is simply not true. What is happening is the result of a multi-year, nationwide effort by appraisal staff of the National Archives to develop some objective criteria by which records are identified for permanent retention. The recently updated records schedule from this effort is available in our records control schedule repository as a .pdf. That schedule can be retrieved here.

Under the previous schedule for district court civil case files, only the case files that went to trial were scheduled as permanent; all non-trial cases were appraised as temporary and authorized for destruction unless they were identified to be “historically significant.” We found that this identification was not systematically and consistently applied and we wanted to develop objective criteria to ensure that the historical records were properly identified.

Under this new and revised schedule, 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 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.” Our appraisal staff led a nationwide appraisal project that included meeting with District Court judges and clerks, meeting with legal scholars and historians, reviewing case files in each nature of suit code, having the scholars and historians review the appraisal, and publishing the schedule in the Federal Register for public comment.  This appraisal truly identified temporary and permanent cases based on the new criteria.  As a result, the new schedule will result in a significantly larger number of cases being retained as permanent.

If you have any questions about our appraisal process, please do not hesitate to leave a comment here.


Comments

Cindy August 10, 2011 at 8:03 am

Thanks for putting this up here

Cathy August 10, 2011 at 11:34 am

I really appreciate that NARA has responded to the misinformation being published.

Andrew August 11, 2011 at 6:42 am

Arian Ravanbakhsh wrote: “Recent articles have implied that the US District Courts are destroying records in an effort to save money on their storage costs. This is simply not true”

Yes, Arian, your statement is simply not true. Saving resources, diminishing litigation exposure and, occasionally, preserving history are the reasons of the retention schedules’ existence. IMHO there is no shame in cutting storage and search costs!

Arian Ravanbakhsh August 11, 2011 at 10:14 am

Andrew, thanks for your comment. Yes, there is “no shame” in cutting storage and retrieval costs and I did not mean to imply that there was.

What I did want to point out was that there was an implication on the part of the author of the original news item that the reason records were being destroyed was only to save on storage costs. That post makes no mention that there is an approved records retention schedule that serves to expand the numbers and types of cases scheduled for permanent retention.

Maarja August 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Great post, Arian. This is a good example of a federal agency using social media to provide timely and accurate information about issues reported on in news media. Good, clear explanation of records appraisal and disposition, as well. As an historian, I’m glad to hear more will be retained as permanently valuable and that the process has been refined.

Social media revolution: Let’s connect (wow)! | NixoNARA November 5, 2011 at 12:44 pm

[...] of Records Express (of course, David knows I read his blog!)    I told David that Arian’s post about court records was exemplary, a role model for how to explain in clear, plain English some [...]

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