More On-Line Court Opinions

“More” might be a bit of a misnomer, but USCOURTS is off and running. This pilot project between the Government Printing Office and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has just launched with opinions from April, 2004 from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida. Free public access with search functionality, and the secure transfer protocol employed by the agencies allows for authentication of the files with digital signatures. Also, once you find the opinion you are looking for, all associated opinions within the same case can be accessed from the opinion’s More Information page.

It’s a nice start, with great promise. Let’s all hope the pilot goes prime time.

Oyez! Quincy District Court Now in Session, Everywhere

A novel social media / legal experiment is taking place a few miles and minutes from where I am sitting. As of yesterday, anyone with an internet connection can “see” what is happening in the Quincy District Court. Cameras and microphones are operating in the court’s criminal session and proceedings are being streamed live over the Internet at the new website created solely for the project. The project is run by NPR local affiliate WBUR and is being funded by Knight Media and is called, appropriately enough, OpenCourt.us. The goal is to improve transparency and understanding of the judicial process and, hopefully, strengthen “ties” between the public and their courts.

These “ties” include court reporting. In the courtroom there is an operating Wi-Fi network and a space reserved for “citizen bloggers” to share the news with the Internet via blogs, tweets, even Facebook.

The project is not without limitations. The Judge can decide when to shut the camera off, when the need arises. Or to comply with existing court rules or maintain privacy in domestic violence cases. To protect attorney-client communications, there are “privacy” zones in the court room, free from electronic eyes and ears.

If matters proceed positively, the Project partners plan to extend it to other sessions, civil matters and small claims. Because everyone needs to know what is happening in small claims.

All sarcasm aside, I find this project fascinating. In an age where we are constantly admonished not to tweet or reach out where court is concerned (or even are barred from bringing smartphones and laptops into the court room in parts of New York), the Quincy Court’s about-face is somewhat startling. My short answer is that I am all for openness and transparency. But I do wonder what indirect effects the knowledge of constant, anonymous on-line viewing might have on the parties, their counsel and court personnel.

We shall see.

Suffering the Consequences of Incomprehensibility

1st third of 16th century
Image via Wikipedia

Haven’t posted one of these in the while. The ABA Journal reports here on another lawyer taking a beating from a judge for poor writing. The Dayton, Florida lawyer, David W. Glasser, was the attorney on the receiving end of U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell’s ire. Apparently, Attorney Glasser filed a Motion to Dismiss with the District Court and Judge Presnell denied the Motion without prejudice. Attached to the Judge’s Denial is a copy of the original Motion complete with red editing marks. The Judge ordered Glasser to copy his client on the criticism.

I read the ABA’s blurb listing the grammatical errors pointed out by the Judge: several examples of excess spacing; typographical errors; incorrect placement of punctuation outside of quotation marks; incorrect capitalization; wrong word use; and, one very long sentence. Procedural errors aside, I thought to myself “sure, these are problems, but the Judge’s actions seem pretty harsh.” And then I read the example quoted by the Journal:

“A review counsel’s file subsequent to the court order indicates that for some reason full which counsel is unaware, the defendant named in the complaint was changed to the current defendant. Counsel believes this was changed by counsel’s prior assistant it was no longer with counsel’s firm.”

Whaaaat? Case closed.

[if you really want to, you can read the Motion here]

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