From the November 2000 Idaho Observer:

Maryland county clerk makes startling admission

“Soon... the public won't have access to much of anything”

HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- Washington County Chief Deputy Clerk Rick Hemphill made several candid admissions to Virginia resident Jay Hirsch October 13, 2000, with regard to the future of public access to official records. Hemphill summed up his overview of what is happening with respect to the public being able to copy records traditionally kept on file in the state's city and county courthouses by stating, “Soon, no one will be able to view records on anyone so as to protect privacy. The public won't have access to much of anything.”

Hirsch contacted Hemphill while attempting to find out why a Notice of Interest affidavit regarding a farm sale / mortgage foreclosure filed by a on behalf of a friend was refused by the county. Hemphill explained that the county has no filing index or category for such documents that are “lacking substance.” He did say that, had the document been styled as a lien, it could have been recorded.

Hirsch was being friendly and Hemphill cooperative so the conversation flowed into other areas regarding access to public records, including IRS lien notices and indexes that are set up “only for the benefit of the government's use,” and “are not available to the citizen.”

“Is Maryland a constitutional state?”

After listening to Hemphill's description of public non-access to IRS lien notices and indexes, he asked him, “Is Maryland a constitutional state?”

Hemphill replied that the state is under the state Constituton of 1851. However, because the federal Constitution is a common law Constitution and Maryland is “definitely not a common law state,” Hemphill stated that, “I suppose I would have to say we are not a U.S. Constitution state.”

Hemphill explained that Maryland has always been different from the other colonies since colonial times and that it is really a “southern state with a northern legislature. “The feds have no mandatory power over Maryland's legislature however [being so close to Washington, D.C.] the legislature does pretty much whatever the feds want and favor it,” he said.

At present, the only categories Maryland has for the recording of documents is land records, bonds, liens, court cases, government notices and public disclosure statements for government officials. “The public has no public docket for filing other items if they want to make them a part of the public record. There is no place to put them,” Hirsch observed.

Hemphill explained that there used to be numerous categories, such as coroner's reports, but that the legislature has been systematically eliminating them. To date, the only records available to the public are land records, court cases and liens.

Using the right to privacy as an excuse, Hemphill expects that public access to those records will soon be denied.

Hirsch asked whether or not Maryland kept public officials' oaths of office on file. “Public officials sign a statement of oath but it is not officially filed for public access,” Hemphill said.

Public access to official records has been a cornerstone of our form of representative government.

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