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A rare glimpse

From the Winter 2006 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 8. An unusual firsthand look at secret…

From the Winter 2006 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 8.

An unusual firsthand look at secret docketing is buried in a footnote in an October ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.).

When Orlando Sanchez-Cristancho, a co-defendant in the U.S. government’s “Operation Millennium” drug trafficking case, made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Miami, both the defense and prosecution asked Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow to seal the order and the transcript.

Snow agreed &#151 and then directed that the records “be held in the vault and not docketed.” In a unanimous ruling admonishing the lower court for its secret docketing procedures, the appeals court ruled that such a system was unconstitutional and footnoted the transcript of the discussion between the lawyers and Snow.

The Court: … Anything else I’ve left out?

Sanchez’s counsel: Judge, there’s just &#151

Government: There’s the matter of docketing.

Daniel Forman [defense attorney]: There’s just one other administrative matter.

The Court: My feeling is that you just work that out however you can. I don’t know what to do with it, if you want to &#151 me to defer, I guess I could verbally order that &#151 that the clerk retain custody of these documents and that they be filed either on Wednesday or however [Magistrate] Judge Vitunac orders it, and that they be held in the vault and not docketed.

Government: That would work for us, Judge.

Sanchez’s counsel: That works, your Honor.

The Court: … So, I guess they can just put it in the vault &#151

Government: That’s fine judge.

The Court: &#151 without docketing.