VirtualCourthouse; Issue 2.5
Public Private Partnership
Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt
This Article was first published in the Prince George’s County, Maryland Bar Association Journal/Newsletter
Money, money everywhere and not a penny for me! Such has been the fate of the Judicial Branch of the Government when it comes to dividing tax revenues among the three equal branches of the government — the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, a suburban county of Washington, DC with 700,000 plus residents, the law requires a balanced budget. Tax revenues are $1.2 billion. The Judicial Branch’s share is $7.2 million. This financial distortion has required a resort to creative methods to provide needed resources. Historically this has been especially true when it comes to obtaining funds for technology. Although much technological advance requires a capital investment, budget decision makers continue to require the courts to obtain technology through operational budgets.
The public/private partnership has recently received attention as one of several new creative methods for acquiring necessary resources to capitalize technological needs. The public/private partnership is a concept which originated in the early 1980’s largely through the efforts of Public Technology, Inc., an association whose goal it is to bring technological advances to government particularly local governments. A search of the literature, however, does not reveal a lot of information or definition to the subject. Most references are to public education partnerships with the notable exception of the public/private partnership between the Securities & Exchange Commission and its electronic data gathering and retrieval system EDGAR. In 1993, the SEC entered into a public/private partnership with Mead Data Central, Inc. To sell data to commercial computer services. Mead’s rates were subject to SEC’s approval according to the partnership agreement. The legitimate question then might be asked: What is the definition and purpose of a public/private partnership?
A public/private partnership is an agreement between a public agency and a private group which is not prohibited by law, benefits both the public and private groups and furthers a public purpose. The public agency may take the form of a local governmental entity, a regional group or a national agency. In its simplest form a public agency is a governmental entity created by law. In its more complex form it can be an agency created by a governmental agreement such as a treaty. A private group is a non-governmental entity. Most all public agencies are created by a constitutional or legislative act. Those acts spell out the powers of the agency as well as its prohibited actions. Usually a reading of the enabling law will reveal whether a public/private partnership is prohibited. The partnership will perform a public purpose if it is within the scope of the powers and does not otherwise violate sound concepts of public policy.
A public/private partnership can serve many purposes and functions — from the universal to the specific. Among the purposes which the public/private partnership can serve are the following: (I) provide a service which otherwise is unaffordable; (ii) create a continuing revenue source; (iii) dedicate a continuing revenue source to a specific purpose; and (iv) overcome cumbersome purchasing requirements.
One of the more recent applications of a public/private partnership has been in the area of public electronic access to court records. Because members of the public have a need for the court’s information, technological entrepreneurs (technologists) are seeking contractual relationships with courts. The technologists are willing to pay the courts for electronic access to its records usually in relationship to the volume of use. In Prince George’s County, this arrangement was entered with Andersen Consulting, LLP as JusticeLINK, a national electronic filing pilot project.
Examples of other public/private partnerships are: CourtLINK, CourtCALL and QuickCOURT.
The public needs timely information regarding judicial records. It is a wise public policy to provide that information timely and at an affordable cost.