NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · FLORIDA · Secret Courts · Jan. 19, 2007
Public defenders say altered dockets illegal
Jan. 19, 2007 · The Florida Public Defender Association has expressed concern about the altering of court dockets, following The Miami Herald‘s November story revealing that Miami-Dade prosecutors falsified criminal records for defendants cooperating with state attorneys.
On Tuesday, the public defender association filed a formal recommendation to the Supreme Court of Florida regarding the sealing of court records and documents.
The association is concerned about not only the criminal implications of falsifying court records, which the association says violates Florida law, but also the ethical issues of the practice, which affects the reliability of court documents and the outcome of criminal defense cases.
The public defenders point out the practical implications of such a massive falsification of records when it describes how assistant public defenders rely on the computer records of the court when researching criminal histories for their cases.
According to the comments filed by the association, “Until the story broke in The Miami Herald, those attorneys had no reason to suspect those records were falsified.”
Since attorneys are familiar with encountering misfiled or missing paper court records, the computer records were actually considered more reliable than their physical counterparts.
The computer records were originally created by deputy clerks making contemporaneous entries as cases come before the circuit court.
Attorneys who trusted the computer records to be accurate would not have any reason to believe that the state attorney’s office falsified computer records. Prosecutors may have violated ethical principles by not correcting criminal history records because they could “lead attorneys to providing incorrect advice to clients,” the public defenders wrote.
The Supreme Court ordered a review of docketing procedures in the state after the Herald revealed last year that hundreds of civil and criminal cases were being shielded from public view on secret dockets.