Israel cracks down on ex parte communications between judges and prosecutors

In the wake of a high-profile scandal in which prosecutors in a major corruption case exchanged private text messages with a judge about its planned strategy, Israel’s Supreme Court has announced new rules to prevent further one-sided communications.

Under the new rules all contact between the judge and the investigative and prosecuting bodies will only be made during court hearings. Aside from in the courtroom, no direct requests are to be made of judges, but rather are to be filled through the court administration.

This makes a great deal of sense, and gives the court system a chance to rebuild whatever public legitimacy it has lost from the scandal.

Minnesota seeks public comment on broadcasting of criminal proceedings

In 2015, the Minnesota Supreme Court authorized a pilot program to allow limited audio and video coverage of criminal proceedings in the state trial courts. The pilot ended in December, and the state’s advisory committee on criminal rules has recommended that the pilot procedures be adopted permanently.  The Supreme Court is now seeking public comment on this proposal.

Comments are due by March 25, and a hearing will be held in April.

Houston Chronicle profiles Judge Lee Rosenthal

The Houston Chronicle has a very good profile of Lee Rosenthal, a highly respected federal district judge in the Southern District of Texas. Judge Rosenthal is well-known not only as an excellent jurist, but as a thoughtful and tireless worker on issues of court administration. I will add that she is a warm, gracious, and lovely person as well. A good read for anyone interested in the backgrounds of judges and (to some degree) the inner workings of the federal court system.

Indiana’s problem-solving courts and the development of the courtroom workgroup

Those interested in the operations of problem-solving courts might want to skim through various rule changes proposed by the Indiana Problem Solving Courts Committee.  Among the most notable changes, any judge appointed to a problem-solving court bench would be required to participate in an approved orientation program within a year of appointment.  The new rules also clarify the importance of the entire “problem-solving court team” — a group that may include the judge, case managers, attorneys, probation or parole officers, and representatives of addiction treatment, child services, or Veteran’s Administration groups.

Such teams are an expansion of what Herbert Jacob identified as “courtroom workgroups” in the 1980’s.  Jacob and his colleagues observed that in the crucible of the courtroom (especially the criminal courtroom), the D.A., defense counsel, and judge had much more in common with each other than might be anticipated.  They worked together to process hundreds of criminal cases, and developed their own courtroom culture that was not known or understood to those who did not frequent the courtroom.  In particular, criminal defense lawyers found themselves in two worlds — as advocates for their clients, as as friends and colleagues of the judge and prosecutor.  The interests of the specific defendants became almost secondary to the “work” that needed to be done in processing cases.  (Coincidentally, the courtroom workgroup was often clearly, if absurdly, illustrated by the contemporaneous sitcom Night Court.)

Indiana’s problem solving courts appear to embrace the courtroom workgroup in a  healthy way, allowing a team of advocates and decisionmakers to help defendants reach productive resolutions.  Any Indiana resident or attorney is invited to comment on the proposed changes.

 

Neil Gorsuch and judicial administration

The BNA reports here that if he is confirmed to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch would lose his position as Chair of the federal Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules, a role he has occupied since last October.  This is only a minor administrative inconvenience for the federal court system; Chief Justice Roberts no doubt has already considered how to replace Judge Gorsuch on that committee. But the article does provide an important reminder about the considerable experience Judge Gorsuch brings to judicial administration, and lets us consider why such experience matters. Continue reading “Neil Gorsuch and judicial administration”

Indiana state courts now open to live tweeting

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications has issued an advisory opinion stating that live tweeting, microblogging, and other forms of “electronically relaying a written message” do not constitute broadcasting, and therefore do not fall under the general ban on broadcasting courtroom proceedings.  The decision paves the way for journalists of all types to share information on live testimony through Twitter.  Broadcasting video or audio of court proceedings is still prohibited, and trial judges still have discretion to restrict microblogging activity in any given proceeding or trial.

More on the background of the new opinion here.

Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials

Starting today.  This is a very interesting development for a few reasons.  First, it appears to apply to both criminal and civil cases, with exceptions made only for highly sensitive proceedings like juvenile and family cases, criminal pretrial motions, grand jury hearings, probate matters, and trade secret disputes.  Second, it is being permitted by state supreme court rule rather than legislation.  Third, the cameras will be operated by  external media outlets, who may edit the materials as they see fit (although they are cautioned to edit wisely).

I have long been an advocate of the educational and cognitive benefits of broadcasting courtroom proceedings, and was disappointed when the federal pilot project for recording selected civil proceedings was terminated in 2015.  Nebraska’s new policy is much more expansive than the federal pilot, and does pose a certain risk that courtroom events will be unfairly or improperly presented, that off-limits personnel (like jurors) will be shown, or that witnesses or lawyers will play to the cameras.  But I think the risk is minimal.  Continue reading “Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials”