Skip to content

The AP’s request

From the Spring 2006 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 12. It all started with a simple…

From the Spring 2006 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 12.

It all started with a simple question: how many defendants in criminal cases have journeyed through the federal court system completely shrouded in secrecy?

The Associated Press asked the Administrative Office of the Courts that question last year and was told the no such tally had ever been done. AP was certain the numbers existed &#151 one function of the office is as a clearinghouse for data from the nation’s 94 judicial districts. And in 1994, the Federal Judicial Center produced an exhaustive study of sealed settlement agreements in 288,846 federal civil cases.

The Administrative Office agreed to run the numbers &#151 its first-ever tally on the subject &#151 and several months after their request, John Solomon, AP investigations editor, and Staff Writer Michael Sniffen had the story.

Records of 5,116 defendants who journeyed through the federal court system in 2003, 2004 and 2005 were shrouded in secrecy despite the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of open trials for all. The Administrative Office declined to break down the number by district, so it’s impossible to tell which courts are more inclined than others to keep cases shielded from the public. &#151 KBM