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.

Records in corporate challenge to government product-safety database must be open

Jamie Schuman | Secret Courts | News | April 17, 2014
April 17, 2014

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit instructed a Maryland district court yesterday to unseal in its entirety a consumer safety case that a company had sought to close on the grounds that disclosure would injure its reputation.

In 2011, a yet-to-be-identified manufacturer sued to stop the Consumer Product Safety Commission from publishing on an online database a report that one of its products caused an infant to die. After the district court sealed most of the record and let the company use a pseudonym, three consumer advocacy groups – Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union – challenged the decision.

Ninth Circuit reinstates case challenging Calif. superior court record delay policy

Michael Rooney | Secret Courts | News | April 7, 2014
April 7, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) reversed the dismissal of a challenge to the Ventura County, Calif. Superior Court’s document policy, which withheld from public inspection records filed with the court until administrators there completed processing – a procedure that could take several days, and, in some instances, much longer.

In early 2012, Courthouse News Services filed the action in federal court, claiming that the Ventura County Superior Court’s policy violated its First Amendment right of public access and its right to gather and disseminate news.

A lower court had previously dismissed CNS's suit on a rule that “permit[s] the federal courts to decline to decide matters ... which implicate sensitive state interests.”

At Guantanamo, showing up counts

Having boots on the ground lets Carol Rosenberg cover the military facility like few others
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Carol Rosenberg

Unlike most beat reporters, the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg doesn’t have the luxury of moseying on downtown to ply her sources at City Hall or the local courthouse.

Rosenberg’s beat is the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which means that she gets there under U.S. military custody, sleeps in a tent, and reports under constant observation. And sources are hard to come by.

But for Rosenberg, there is no other way to cover Guantanamo, which she began writing about when it first opened just months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “Showing up counts,” is her mantra, and that shows in her coverage.

More Reporters Committee coverage of Guantanamo

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Articles related to Guantanamo proceedings on the Reporters Committee's site:

Ninth Circuit begins live video streaming en banc proceedings

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Michael Rooney

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) announced in December that it would become the first federal appeals court in the country to live stream video coverage of its major cases. The court began providing streaming arguments over the Internet for the media and general public on Dec. 9, 2013.

“The Ninth Circuit has a long history of using advances in technology to make the court more accessible and transparent," the court's Chief Judge Alex Kozinski told the Los Angeles Times. "Video streaming is a way to open the court’s doors even wider so that more people can see and hear what transpires in the courtrooms, particularly in regard to some of our most important cases.”

Judge unseals transcripts in Hawaii murder trial

Jamie Schuman | Secret Courts | News | March 3, 2014
March 3, 2014

The Hawaii judge who closed the courtroom multiple times during the last day of a high-profile murder trial has unsealed the transcripts from that proceeding in response to a motion by The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now.

Wisconsin judge orders emails, other documents of former Walker aide released

Michael Rooney | Secret Courts | News | February 5, 2014
February 5, 2014

The Wisconsin First District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that previously sealed documents from the secret investigation and conviction of Kelly Rindfleisch, former aid of the state's governor, Scott Walker, will be made available to the public within 30 days, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Rindfleisch, who was convicted of misconduct in public office, had asked the court of Appeals in Milwaukee to keep the documents sealed. The court denied the motion, and, instead, unsealed the documents, except for documentation including social security numbers and medical information.

Florida court rejects 30-day delay on release of trial records

Emily Grannis | Secret Courts | News | December 19, 2013
December 19, 2013

An appeals court in Florida has ruled that a lower court may not put a 30-day delay on releasing documents to the media in a high-profile murder trial without first allowing media representatives to argue for openness.

A trial judge in Jacksonville imposed a 30-day delay on the release of any records in the murder trial of Michael Dunn after reporters obtained copies of letters Dunn had written from prison and published racially sensitive comments from them, according to The Florida Times-Union. The judge imposed the delay out of concern that Dunn would not receive a fair trial otherwise.

Tech companies call on government to end bulk data collection and reform other surveillance policies

Jamie Schuman | Secret Courts | News | December 9, 2013
December 9, 2013

Eight leading technology companies called on the U.S. government Monday to end bulk data collection of Internet communications and to lead a worldwide effort to implement other reforms to surveillance policies.

The groups – AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo – detailed five proposed reforms on a website and in a letter to President Obama and the U.S. Congress. They want courts that review surveillance policies to use a clear legal framework, have adversarial proceedings and publicize big decisions. They also are asking that governments limit their authority to collect data to specific, known users; allow companies to publish the number and nature of demands for records; respect the free flow of information across borders; and work to avoid conflicts amongst nations in policies that govern data requests.

Ninth Circuit to live stream oral arguments

Latara Appleby | Secret Courts | News | December 4, 2013
December 4, 2013

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) will begin live streaming proceedings on Monday. It will be the first federal court of appeals to do so, according to the Los Angeles Times.

All en banc rulings, which consist of the chief judge and 10 jurists, will be streamed. The first case it will show deals with whether or not law enforcement can collect DNA when they arrest someone.

The 9th Circuit is one of only two federal appellate courts that allow news media cameras in the courtroom. It consists of nine western states and two Pacific island jurisdictions.