Federal court access

Reporters Committee and media coalition move to unseal prosecutions of Colombian paramilitary leaders

Hannah Bloch-Wehba | Secret Courts | News | April 7, 2015
April 7, 2015

A coalition of media organizations and journalists led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed petitions to unseal secretive criminal prosecutions of four Colombian paramilitary leaders who were extradited to the United States in 2008. CBS Broadcasting Inc., Sergio Gomez, a U.S.-based reporter for El Tiempo, Daniel Pacheco, a U.S. based reporter for Caracol and El Espectador, and Univision have joined the Reporters Committee in this effort.

Fourth Circuit invalidates gag order and sealing order in Blankenship criminal trial

Tom Isler | Secret Courts | News | March 5, 2015
March 5, 2015

A federal appeals court today invalidated a gag order and sealing order that had been entered in the criminal case against Donald Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy Co., who faces charges stemming from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 that killed 29 people.

The ruling is a victory for the media, which had been unable to access many court filings in the case and had been unable to discuss the substance of the charges with lawyers, parties, victims, victims’ family members, and others, who were subject to a broad gag order.

Legal site releases judges' financial disclosure data, highlighting teaching fees and security exemptions

Jamie Schuman | Secret Courts | News | May 22, 2014
May 22, 2014

The National Law Journal published on Thursday financial disclosure reports from 2012 for 257 of 258 federal appellate judges. Judges redacted information from 112 of these reports.

Each year, federal judges are required to fill out financial disclosure reports, and the forms from 2012 are the ones most recently available. The reports help expose conflicts of interest that can lead judges to recuse themselves from cases. They include such information as investments, outside income, gifts, and travel reimbursements.

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.

Fourth Circuit to close portions of oral argument in Sterling case to the public

Andrea Papagianis | Newsgathering | News | April 19, 2012
April 19, 2012

Classified portions of oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. (4th Cir.) will be closed to the public in the government's case against ex-CIA official Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with violating the Espionage Act for disclosing classified information. Only arguments pertaining to the subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen will be heard in open court.

U.S. judges to colleagues: put fewer civil cases under seal

Kirsten Berg | Secret Courts | Feature | September 13, 2011
September 13, 2011

Too many civil lawsuits are closed off to the public, according to the policy-making body of the federal justice system, which unanimously recommended today that U.S. judges limit the number of cases kept under seal.

Center releases pocket guide for sealed courts

Lyndsey Wajert | Secret Courts | Feature | February 25, 2011
February 25, 2011

Federal judges who decide whether or not to seal a court case can turn to a Federal Judicial Center pocket guide, which includes a brief history of case law on secret courts and a checklist of First and Sixth Amendment considerations.

Gag order removed in judge's sexual abuse case

Cristina Abello | Newsgathering | Quicklink | February 27, 2009
February 27, 2009

The judge overseeing the sexual abuse trial against U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent has lifted a gag order in the case that had been challenged by journalists in an emergency motion, the Houston Chronicle reports.  

Newspaper asks Supreme Court to review secret docket

Rory Eastburg | Secret Courts | Quicklink | September 15, 2008
September 15, 2008

A legal newspaper in Pennsylvania has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a decision that allowed all records in a federal employment discrimination case to be hidden from the public.

Federal court district weighs cutting back on plea agreement availability

Jason Wiederin | Secret Courts | Feature | September 12, 2008
September 12, 2008

Two Utah newspapers sounded the alarms this week over a rule up for debate in the federal district court there that would heavily veil plea agreements in criminal cases.