Oswego Clerk may provide public access to criminal records

In the face of a pending lawsuit, it appears the Oswego County Clerk is preparing to make criminal records accessible to the public free of charge.

CNY Central's Jim Kenyon has obtained a copy of a letter to State Supreme Court Judge, Norman Siegel from Oswego County Attorney, Richard Mitchell. The October 21st letter is part of on-going communications between Oswego County and the court over a lawsuit filed against the county by Aaron Smith who owns APS Information Services.

In the letter Mitchell states: "the County Clerk has begun compiling an index of County Court criminal records that could be viewed by the public..."

Smith's lawsuit accuses the Oswego County Clerk's office of extorting money for access to criminal court records that are readily available in surrounding counties free of charge. The Oswego County Clerk prohibits the general public from inspecting the records. Instead an employee does the research and charges a $5 fee for each name that is requested as part of a criminal background check. Smith tells Kenyon that the County's fee for has cost him nearly $40-thousand so far this year alone.

Smith views the letter as an admission on the part of the County Clerk that the practice is "illegal." If Smith wins his case in State Supreme Court, he wants Oswego County to pay back $160 thousand in fees he paid over the past four years. Even though APS Information Services passed those fees along to its clients, Aaron Smith told Kenyon he would not reimburse his customers. "I was the one that was being illegally charged. To go back and pay my clients, that's just not how it works."

County Attorney Richard Mitchell has not yet returned our call for comment.

R eached by phone Oswego County Clerk George Williams told Kenyon, "I would love to help you but I don't want to comment until after the court appearance."

On Thursday, the democratic floor leader of the Oswego County Legislature called for an audit of the Clerk's office. Michael Kunzwiler said, "The whole legislature should ask for an audit of the County Clerk's office to make sure the County taxpayers revenue is being accounted for properly." Kunzwiler also repeated is call for Williams to resign. The FBI is reportedly investigating the Clerks office for a questionable relationship with a private company.

Oswego County Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann says Kunzwiler's call for Williams resignation is political. "As of yet, nothing has been proven of any criminal problem or any kind of guilt what so ever. They're all allegations, most of them unfounded."