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C. Tips for covering courts in the jurisdiction

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  • 4th Circuit

    The Fourth Circuit is not afraid to decide the merits of a dispute over public access, but it will only do so after the district court has thoroughly considered the matter consistent with the procedural and substantive requirements identified in the case law.  If the district court has failed in either regard, the Fourth Circuit will usually remand the case for further consideration.  It is important, therefore, that a party seeking access consider proactive steps that might help ensure that the district court adheres in the first instance to the substantive and procedural requirements.

    Addressing access issues proactively also increases the likelihood of successfully obtaining access.  Judges appreciate being advised of access rights before making a decision on what they might otherwise perceive as a routine or noncontroversial request for closure.  Moreover, as a practical matter, convincing a judge not to do something is much easier than convincing the judge to undo something he/she has already done.

    A party seeking to attend the trial of a high profile matter and to access trial exhibits should contact the district court in advance to determine if any procedures have been adopted to facilitate public access, such as providing an extra room in the courthouse for overflow attendees to view the trial by closed-circuit video, and for timely release of trial exhibits.  A letter to the district court, copying counsel of record, should suffice for this initial inquiry.  The inquiry will often prompt the court to adopt procedures.  District courts have discretion over the extent to which they must accommodate public access at trial.

    The right of access is qualified, not absolute.  Therefore, third-parties are well-advised not to adopt a demanding or overbearing approach to access, but to request it in a civil and professional manner that avoids undue disruption and interference with the underlying proceeding.  Most federal district court judges in the Fourth Circuit understand and appreciate the value of public access.  However, no judge appreciates discourteous and disruptive behavior by third-party intervenors, and such behavior will foreclose the potential for accommodations not required to protect the public’s right of access.

    Conferring with the litigants before intervening is vital, as it may reveal a meritorious basis for closure not apparent from the record.  Additionally, to the extent an agreement can be reached, it will bolster arguments for access.

     

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  • Idaho

    Idaho has an active Idaho Press Club, which offers many insights and helpful hints on its website to members of the media and public.  See http://www.idahopressclub.org.  In addition, the judiciary has been proactive in dealing with the media through the Idaho Supreme Court’s Media and Courts Committee (http://www.isc.idaho.gov/main/judicial-committees), the Media and Court Conflicts Resolution Panel (aka “Fire-Brigade”) (http://www.isc.idaho.gov/files/Media_Guide-REVISION-DRAFT-10-28-13.pdf at 25) and by publishing a Media Guide to the Idaho Courts.  Id.   All of these are good resources to turn to when questions about covering Idaho’s courts arise.

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  • Kansas

    For an overview of the Kansas judicial system, see Kansas Courts on the state Judicial Branch’s website, at: http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/general-information/default.asp.  A chart, Kansas Court System, sets forth the structure and jurisdiction of the courts and may be found at http://www.kscourts.org/pdf/ctchart.pdf.

    Contact information for Kansas district courts is available at http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/general-information/contacts.asp.  Guidance for contacting municipal courts is at http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/municipal-courts/default.asp.

    Guidelines for requesting transcripts, cases files and other court records at http://www.kscourts.org/rules-procedures-forms/open-records-procedures/default.asp.

    Procedures for coverage of high-profile cases historically have been set up on an ad hoc basis, with no set protocol, according to Ron Keefover, former Kansas Judicial Branch information-education officer.  Information about arrangements for coverage of a case may be requested from either or both of the following:

    Lisa Taylor, Public Information Director
    301 SW 10th Avenue, Room 337
    Topeka, Kansas 66612-1507
    Phone: (785) 296-4872
    Fax: (785) 296-7076
    Email: info@kscourts.org

    Office of Judicial Administration
    301 SW 10th Avenue, Room 337
    Topeka, Kansas 66612-1507
    Phone: (785) 296-2256
    Fax: (785) 296-7076
    Email: info@kscourts.org

    When in courtrooms to cover proceedings, members of the media must comply with Kansas Supreme Court Rule 1001, Media Coverage of Judicial Proceedings, http://www.kscourts.org/rules/Media_Coverage/Rule%201001.pdf.  The rule requires that, when in a courtroom, members of the media have permission from the judge to use electronic devices such as laptops while covering proceedings.

    In courtrooms, according to Rule 1001, judges are responsible for the “integrity” of proceedings,” and they maintain control over all activities in the courtroom and to some extent outside of it.  In sections (c)(1) and (2), Rule 1001 generally allows persons in the courtroom to possess laptops, cellphones and other devices, as long as they are turned off and put away out of sight.  Possession of the devices is a qualified privilege, though.  Under section (e)(3), a judge is authorized to disallow possession by any observer during a proceeding.  Moreover, persons are prohibited from activating and using the devices unless specifically permitted by the judge under sections (e)(1) and (2).  Section (d)(2) provides for confiscation of a device that is used in a courtroom without permission.  Also see Kan. Sup. Ct. R. 161, Courtroom Decorum, http://www.kscourts.org/rules/District_Rules/Rule%20161.pdf, which appears in Rules Adopted by the Supreme Court/Rules Relating to District Courts. http://www.kscourts.org/rules/District_Court.asp.

    A primary source of information about Kansas courts is the state’s Judicial Branch website, http://www.kscourts.org.  The website includes the following resources:

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  • Pennsylvania

    Structure of Court System

    The Courts of Commons Pleas are the main trial courts of Pennsylvania for both civil and criminal cases. They are organized into 60 judicial districts, most of which follow the geographic boundaries of Pennsylvania’s counties. Beneath the Court of Common Pleas are “minor courts,” which preside over a limited category of proceedings, including civil cases where the amount-in-controversy is $12,000 or less.

    The Superior Court is a court of general appellate jurisdiction.

    The Commonwealth Court only will preside over appeals from state agency decisions and certain cases in which the Commonwealth or another government unit is a party. The Commonwealth Court also has original jurisdiction over certain, specific matters.

    Pennsylvania’s highest court is its Supreme Court. It hears appeals from both the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court. It also has original jurisdiction in a limited area of matters.

    Contact Info

    The Office of Communications and Intergovernmental Relations of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”) fields inquiries from reporters as part of its duties as media liaison. See Office of Communications and Intergovernmental Relations, The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, http://www.pacourts.us/judicial-administration/office-of-communications-and-intergovernmental-relations (last visited July 18, 2018). In high-profile criminal trials, the AOPC has worked with local courts on issues relating to media coverage. In all cases, however, the court itself makes decisions on access issues.

    Online Resource for Case Information

    Dockets for matters pending in the Superior Court, Commonwealth Court, and Supreme Court may be accessed online at the web portal for The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania: https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/Appellate.aspx (last visited June 10, 2018).

    Criminal case dockets for the Courts of Common Pleas can also be accessed at the web portal: https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/CP.aspx (last visited June 10, 2018).

    Many counties also make their Court of Common Pleas dockets for civil cases electronically available.

    Decorum Orders in High-Profile Trials

    In high-profile criminal trials, courts routinely implement decorum orders governing the conduct of the case and press access to the proceedings. When covering such a trial, it is advisable to inquire with the court whether such a decorum order is in place. Courts in some counties will post relevant decorum order information online.

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  • Wisconsin

    Each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties has its own circuit or trial court with at least one judge. Wis. Stat. § 753.06; see Wis. Stat. § 753.03:

    The circuit courts have power to hear and determine, within their respective circuits, all civil and criminal actions and proceedings unless exclusive jurisdiction is given to some other court; and they have all the powers, according to the usage of courts of law and equity, necessary to the full and complete jurisdiction of the causes and parties and the full and complete administration of justice, and to carry into effect their judgments, orders and other determinations, subject to review by the court of appeals or the supreme court as provided by law.

    Wisconsin has a single, unified court of appeals with four geographic districts.  Wis. Stat. § 752.11; see Wis. Stat. § 752.31(1) (“Except as otherwise provided in this action, the court of appeals shall sit in panels of three judges to dispose of cases on their merits.”); see also Wis. Stat. § 808.03:

    (1) APPEALS AS OF RIGHT. A final judgment or a final order of a circuit court may be appealed as a matter of right to the court of appeals unless otherwise expressly provided by law. A final judgment or final order is a judgment, order or disposition that disposes of the entire matter in litigation as to one or more parties, whether rendered in an action or special proceeding ….

    (2) APPEALS BY PERMISSION. A judgment or order not appealable as a matter or right under sub. (1) may be appealed to the court of appeals in advance of a final judgment or order upon leave granted by the court ….

    Wisconsin has a single supreme court with seven justices. Wis. Const. art VII, § 4; see Wis. Stat. § 808.10(1): "A decision of the court of appeals is reviewable by the supreme court only upon a petition for review granted by the supreme court."

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court also may hear original actions, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 809.70, though it is exceptionally rare. Finally, the supreme court may directly review the judgment or order of a trial court either when the court of appeals certifies the appeal to the supreme court, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 809.61, or when a party petitions to bypass the court of appeals, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 809.60.

    All Wisconsin judges are elected in Spring, non‑partisan elections.  If a judge at any level retires or passes away during her term, the Governor has the right to appoint a new judge until there is time for an election.

    The Director of State Courts is the administrative head of the Wisconsin court system.  His offices are in Madison, in the same suite as the administrative staff for the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.  He can be reached at (608) 266‑6820.  The website for Wisconsin’s courts is www.wicourts.gov. The dockets for all Wisconsin state court cases are available at wcca.wicourts.gov.  Only participants in the actions can see pleadings on that site. Members of the news media and the public may request copies of pleadings from the clerk of the specific court where the case is venued.  Transcripts of proceedings are available for a fee from each judge’s court reporter.

     

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