Connecticut ends newspaper publication of court notices

Pennoyer v. Neff noticeThe Hartford Courant reports that the Connecticut state courts will no longer require parties to publish court notices in local papers, effective January 2. Instead, notices will be published in a dedicated court website.

The practice of court notice by publication, sometimes called constructive notice, goes back centuries. It is designed to assure that all interested parties are informed of legal proceedings, especially when those parties cannot be found personally. Indeed, constructive notice played a central role in two of the most famous Supreme Court cases in history. In Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co. (1950), the Court signed off on constructive notice for parties who could not be reasonably ascertained at the time the suit was filed. In Pennoyer v. Neff (1877), the infamous bane of many a first-year law student, the Court based its personal jurisdiction analysis on the premise that constructive notice alone was not enough for the Oregon courts to exercise power over an out-of-state defendant.

Constructive notice is founded on the assumption that if notice is published somewhere, the interested parties are reasonably likely to learn about the proceeding. That itself is a bit of a fiction — the notice in Pennoyer v. Neff was published in a local religious publication called the Pacific Christian Reporter — hardly a paper of major import or geographical reach. But with the unquestioned dominance of the internet in our lives, and the ongoing struggles of the newspaper industry, it is probably more fair to post notices online that in the paper anyway. Newspaper publishers might be rightly angry about the development, but with 2020 on the horizon, it seems sensible for the Connecticut courts to embrace the twenty-first century.

Pictured: The newspaper notice in Pennoyer v. Neff

Compared to other federal websites, uscourts.gov leaves a lot to be desired

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has released its second benchmarking review of U.S. government websites, and the main portal for the federal court system, uscourts.gov, performed very poorly in many of the benchmarking criteria.

The study considered four major performance categories: page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility. The uscourts.gov website scored a respectable (although hardly dazzling) 74/100 on desktop download speed and 68/100 on mobile download speed. But that was the only good news.

As to mobile friendliness, the site declined significantly from the time of the prior ITIF report, from a previous score of 99 to a score of 70 this year.  And website security for uscourts.gov was even worse. The court system was one of only a small handful of federal government bodies not to implement security measures–including the commonplace HTTPS protocol–to transmit sensitive information on its main site.

The composite score for uscourts.gov was a paltry 52.8 out of a perfect 100.  By contrast, other federal websites with legal dimensions, like fbi.gov, justice.gov, and uspto.gov, all achieved a composite score above 80.

If it seems that I criticize the federal courts for their technological blunders too frequently on this blog, it’s because I know the system can do better. Most of the fixes described above can be achieved without too much difficulty. But it seems that the federal courts as a whole have been slow to embrace even straightforward and commonplace technological advances, whether broadcasting courtroom proceedings, making documents easily available online, or securing their own website. The federal court system is the crown jewel of the greatest legal system on earth. Time to start acting like it.