In June, a reporter in the Syracuse, New York area was briefly handcuffed by courthouse security after he took pictures of individuals involved in a hallway altercation. The court had generally prohibited photographing and video recording activities in court hallways, but made an exception for the media.
The reporter was freed after a few minutes and not charged, but court administrators are now requiring all security officers in the six-county area to undergo training on working with journalists as well as proper arrest procedure. This appears to have been an isolated incident, but it is good to see the court system acknowledging the problem and working proactively with its officers to maintain the proper balance between security and transparency.
An organization called the Free Law Project has identified a serious vulnerability in PACER, the federal courts’ online filing system. The bug permits cross-site forgery, essentially a method of capturing another user’s account information, and utilizing that information to access documents. The original account owner would be charged, but might not know it until the account statement arrives weeks later. PACER fees, which are currently 10 cents per page with a maximum of $3.00 per document, can quickly add up.
Early stories also stated that another vulnerability would allow hackers to file documents through other people’s account, compromising the integrity of the entire justice system. PACER administrators, however, have denied that fraudulent filing was possible. The cross-site forgery issue has apparently also been addressed.
For those interested in the specific technical details of the bug, the Free Law Project has posted what it shared with the courts here.
Almost 30 years after the PACER system was implemented for the federal district courts, and more than 15 years after district court dockets were placed on the web, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will adopt its own electronic filing system. The system goes into effect this November.
The Court’s announcement states that “Once the system is in place, virtually all new filings will be accessible without cost to the public and legal community.” I read that to mean that reviewing and downloading docket materials will be free, which would be an improvement on the costly PACER system. Let’s hope that is what is intended.
Increasingly, state court systems are following the lead of the federal courts and placing their case files online, where they can be easily accessed by the public. The latest court system to announce a move is Hamilton County, Tennessee. Don’t go looking for information just yet: there are still a number of bureaucratic hoops to jump through before digitized information becomes available. But this is a good trend.
Under New York law, trial judges may withhold jurors’ addresses from the public and the parties if there is a concern for juror safety. The judge, however, may not withhold the names of jurors. A purely anonymous jury is thought to compromise due process for criminal defendants.
The New York Times reports that a state appellate court recently upheld these restrictions. In a criminal trial involving four members of an alleged street gang, the trial court declined to provide juror names to counsel, identifying jurors only by number. Defense lawyers objected, but the trial judge cited to jurors in previous cases who had expressed concerns about their safety. The defendants appealed.
This week, the appeals court sided with the defendants and granted them a new trial, holding that the trial court had violated the statute’s prohibition on purely anonymous juries.
Thanks to recent state legislation, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will began posting video of oral arguments online later this year. The legislation may also open the door for the state’s highest court for criminal matters to broadcast some oral arguments live.
The members of the court do not sound particularly thrilled about the move, although they are trying to maintain a neutral stance now that the legislation has gone through. Said Presiding Judge Sharon Keller: “We decided years ago that we don’t want cameras in courtroom, but a lot of those judges are gone now, and I don’t know what the new judges think. But it does seem to be the wave of the future.”
Former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson strongly supported the move, which also increases pressure on the United States Supreme Court to permit video recording of its oral arguments.
Continue reading “Texas Court of Criminal Appeals introduces courtroom cameras”
A new poll finds that 67 percent of judges in South Korea favor broadcasting judicial proceedings for major criminal cases, as long as the presiding judge gives permission.
From the Korea Herald:
The OCA didn’t mention any specific case in the latest survey but appeared to be collecting the opinions of ordinary judges amid growing public calls for live TV broadcasts of the ongoing trials of former President Park Geun-hye, her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.
Amid enormous public interest in their unprecedented corruption and influence-peddling scandals, there have actually been moves to lift the current ban on TV broadcasts of court hearings.
The current Supreme Court rules allow the filming before the trial begins but do not permit recording, taping or broadcasting after the trial begins.
Speaking at the American Constitution Society’s annual convention, Justice Stephen Breyer again expressed skepticism about video recording the Court’s oral arguments. Breyer stated that some of his friends have told him he does “ridiculous things” during argument, and that the presence of cameras could change the tone of the session.
I will leave an assessment of a public figure questioning public access to issues of public importance, all while speaking at a quasi-public event, as an exercise for the reader.
The Federal Judicial Center has updated and enhanced its interactive database on federal case filings, covering civil and criminal cases from 1970 to the present, appeals from 1971 to the present, and bankruptcy filings from 2008 to the present. This is undoubtedly a valuable asset for court researchers.
Yesterday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard the latest challenge to President Trump’s executive order on immigration. For the first time in circuit history, the court allowed the arguments to be recorded and broadcast on CSPAN.
Even without video, it was an insightful colloquy to listen to. Imagine if viewers could have seen who was talking! Still, score one for transparency, and for the court not being afraid to show its important work to the broader public.
Previous coverage here.