Secret Courts

This section covers access to courts. Courtrooms traditionally have been open to the public, but judges often close proceedings or seal documents when they feel secrecy is justified. This section also covers state and federal laws governing camera coverage of trials.

State courts continue move toward electronic filing, docketing

Developments in Kan., Minn., N.H., and Texas highlight trend
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AP Photo/The Yakima Herald-Republic by Gordon King

In this 2009 picture, Debbie Mendoza, Zillah, Wash.’s municipal court nonattorney judge, looks over the docket for the day’s court.

FISA court faces legal challenges to secrecy

Civil liberties groups, technology companies file briefs asking for limited transparency from secretive court
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AP Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

With a chart listing thwarted acts of terrorism, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., right, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, question top Obama administration officials on Capitol Hill about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs.

FISA court orders government to review for declassification opinions on NSA spying

Jamie Schuman | Secret Courts | News | September 13, 2013
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September 13, 2013

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) ordered the government today to take specific steps to declassify opinions regarding the constitutionality of a PATRIOT Act provision used to obtain evidence in foreign-intelligence investigations.

Hawaii news organizations fight to unseal transcripts and keep courtroom open

Latara Appleby | Secret Courts | News | September 11, 2013
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September 11, 2013

Two Hawaii new organizations are asking the state's Supreme Court to unseal transcript portions from a high-profile murder case and to prevent a judge there from closing her courtroom in the future.

Johnson v. New York; Moss v. New York

September 3, 2013

The Reporters Committee joined by 26 other news organizations asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case challenging the routine closure of courtrooms in New York when undercover officers testify in "buy-and-bust" cases, arguing that such closure should only be allowed after examination of particular circumstances that justify the loss of public access to such testimony.

Appeals court rules Apple and Samsung can keep financial documents sealed

Nicole Lozare | Secret Courts | News | August 23, 2013
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August 23, 2013

Confidential financial records involved in what has been dubbed “The Patent Trial of the Century” between Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. will remain sealed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled today.

Update: cameras in the courtroom

Illinois and Utah welcome cameras to state courts
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AP Photo/St. Cloud Times by Jason Wachter

A judge listens to arguments in a civil case in St. Cloud, Minn. Photojournalist David Chaney of WCCO films the proceedings, which is the first time cameras have been allowed in a Stearns County courtroom for a civil case.

Cameras are rolling in an increasing number of American courthouses, as two states have added new transparency measures.

Pretrial publicity's limited effect on the right to a fair trial

Trials of Boston Marathon bombing and Colorado movie shooting suspects likely to bring up debate again
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AP Photo by Steven Senne

Defense attorneys for Robel Phillipos, who is charged with lying to authortities investigating the Boston Marathon bombings face journalists in front of federal court in Boston.

When criminal cases gets media attention, trial courts may curtail the amount of pretrial publicity by imposing gag orders, restricting media reporting or closing courtrooms entirely.

U.S. Supreme Court decision keeps coalition group from challenging new international surveillance law

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AP Photo by Seth Wenig

Imam Malik Sakhawat Hussain leads prayers at the Al-Mahdi Foundation in New York. The NYPD conducted surveillance on entire Muslim neighborhoods, according to news reports.

Death penalty case renews scrutiny of Georgia secrecy law

Amy Zhang | Secret Courts | News | July 16, 2013
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July 16, 2013

A Georgia law prohibiting the release of information about the drugs used to execute the state's death row inmates may be unconstitutional, a judge indicated earlier this week.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan on Monday agreed to stay an execution for convicted prisoner Warren Lee Hill until Thursday when she hears arguments from Hill's attorneys that the law violated the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.