Free Public Access to Court Opinions?

by Sarah Prosory 13. May 2011 13:36

An article today from the legal blog Justia called, On PACER and FDSys, points to a recent press release from the US Courts website that describes a pilot project of 12 courts that will provide free public access to court opinions through FDSys (the search engine for government documents). The article also has an excellent explanation of what you can search for on PACER, and discusses how PACER is not exactly free.

The pilot project does not include any courts in Arizona, but hey, at least they're trying!

Those who have taken my SRU workshop on FireFox Legal Add-ons will be especially interested in this development, and how it could effect RECAP!


Picture from MorgueFile

Law Library Events for the Week of April 11th 2011

by Sarah Prosory 11. April 2011 13:33

Hello everyone!

The last workshops of the semester! Keep chugging along, diligent students... the semester is coming to a close, but you can stay strong!

This week the Law Library presents 4 different workshops. All will be held in the computer lab on the 2nd floor within the library, and last approximately an hour. Click on the links below to RSVP, or just show up!

Monday 4/11/11:
    1pm, SRU Westlaw & Lexis Q & A

Tuesday 4/12/11:
    Noon, Free Online Sources
   
Thursday 4/14/11:
    3pm, SRU Westlaw & Lexis Q & A   

    7:40pm, Westlaw Cost Effective Searching (no RSVP available)

Friday 4/15/11:
    Noon, FireFox Legal Add-ons

Please visit our workshop calendar to view more workshops: http://www.phoenixlaw.edu/librarycalendar.

For descriptions of these workshops and others, visit http://www.phoenixlaw.edu/libraryworkshops.

Questions? Call (602) 682-6898 or email. Have a great week!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

by Sarah Prosory 17. March 2011 09:05

The Chicago River is dyed green each year.

 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  :)

Join us in the Loft from Noon to 1:30pm as LexisNexis provides St. Patty's Day cupcakes and coffee mugs!

Lots of GREEN is to be seen today! Hope you're wearing your GREEN so you don't get pinched!

Summary of the Courts & New Media Event

by Sarah Prosory 13. March 2011 09:00

On Friday, February 18th 2011, I attended a FREE day-long conference titled, Public Understanding of the Courts in the Age of New Media. This fantastic event consisted of 4 panel discussions and a lunch with keynote speaker retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor! For more information about this conference, see here. Also, C-SPAN was there to capture the event.

As I rubbed elbows with some "famous" judges from around the United States (CA Judge Vaughn Walker of Prop 8 fame, for example, or 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski), I took copious notes to share with you! Here is the breakdown of the day, and a few cell phone pictures to go along with it: 

Panel One: New Media: How is it Changing the Coverage and Conduct of Trial Court Proceedings?

  • Used to have just pen and notebook, now laptops cause clicking when typing. iPads may work better because of silent typing so they can live blog.
  • Everything is about immediacy now, whereas in the past the article would be published the next day.
  • Now there are "citizen journalists", days are over for reporter who has time to search records. 
  • People are uncomfortable with the idea that their records are so public that someone could be sitting in their pajamas looking at their court records. While public access has always been there, a person would have to go down to the courthouse to retrieve the public records.
  • Judges  "control the setting" as to what they permit in their courtroom, and judges want the public to know/see what goes on in court
  • Question: do courts have an obligation to do more than just be open? For example, send out press releases?
    • This would be difficult because then Judges would have to determine what is press worthy. There isn't enough time for this.
    • A suggestion was that Judges put a synopsis at the begining without the legal vocabulary for journalists.
    • In Maricopa County, they don't prepare a list for the press, but wait for interest shown from press to provide information.
  • Question: Is the availability of online information keeping the public out of the courtroom?
    • Public no longer clamoring to get into courtroom. To Kill a Mockingbird courtroom scene is a fantasy now.
    • Now you can listen & watch trials of the 9th circuit online, which is great for lawyers too- to watch other lawyers in trial.
  • Question: Is there witness intimidation with live-streaming trials?
    • There aren't enough cameras to record everything. A protocol is in the works for when to turn the camera on or off.
    • There is reluctance for cameras in courtroom but different than live-blogging.
    • Shouldn't be all or nothing, could have camera but not live, shown after trial ends. Don't want exceptions to be the rule.
  • Question: Would people decide not to file a case because of the publicity?
    • Cameras could make it complicated: lower crime because not want to be on camera? not come forward with information in a case because would be on camera?
  • Question: Jurors are doing more research on their own. Is this because they don't trust what info the lawyers are giving them?
    • Instinctively we google. It should be about instruction & control of courtroom from the Judge. 
    • Jurors should be told not to worry about anything except what is going on in the courtroom. Judges need to be firm.
    • If jurors Google, then it will be a mistrial and a trial will be held on the juror. Must be firm. They should risk a fine or jail.
    • ABA is developing (has developed?) a program/process where jurors can submit questions to lawyers in the case- then jurors won't feel the need to look things up themselves.

Panel Two: Anonymous No Longer? The Federal Courts of Appeals and the New Media

  • Law school students are writing up Federal Court of Appeals media alerts (see ABA website about it here)
    • A daily service that has key cases of the day from that court, posted by 10:30am
    • Professors oversee students who write the summaries
  • Appeals opinions aren't attention grabbing- obligation of court to write them clearer for public understanding
  • Cameras in one appeals court was manned by students of nearby law school. The law school library archived recordings.
  • Question: Why resistance?
    • All judges of court must agree to allow cameras
    • Assumption that there will be tons of media request- not so because not enough time or money
    • Should not be ashamed to show cases
    • Good to reassure public- how well prepared judges are
    • It is the media's role to explain what is going on in courts- make information officer of court more available to media
  • Question: can judges do anything to correct misinformation on a blog?
    • Judges cannot ethically comment on a blog talking about a pending case.

Lunch with Keynote, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

 

  • Lack of civics education in schools, students don't know how the justice system works
  • No Child Left Behind focuses so much on Math & Science, no room for civics
  • Developed website: www.icivics.org aimed at middle school students
    • Play games to teach how judicial branch functions, also covers legislative & executive branches too
    • "Nothing I've done has been as important as this"
    • Teacher friendly and free
    • McDonald's gives free smoothie for so many hours on the website

"Shooting the Messenger: How Cameras in the Courtroom Got a Bad Wrap" from Judge Vaughn Walker:

  • Began with Estes v. Texas in 1962
  • No live telecast except opening statement & closing argument
  • Other notable trials: Scopes, Lindburgh
  • 1990- Federal Judicial Court project- cameras could be used with due process

Panel Three: High Profile Cases in the Digital Age

  • "New media" is an old term
  • Question: what constitutes high profile?
    • Media interest, highly unusual, political, dynamic issues, when the court gets lots of questions
  • No seats in courthouse, should treat all journalists the same, how many press passes is important
  • Digital ages makes it much easier to distribute information
  • Question: how do you balance press & blog access issues?
    • Media center is becoming more popular as no electronic devices allowed in courtroom. Media center located in courthouse, with screens showing live what is going on inside courtroom.
    • Newspapers used to have until 4 or 5pm to write story, now they must provide something on the website immediately
    • Transcripts would be great to get- costs money
  • In high profile case, used to give lawyers 10 minute lead to view opinion, but then a lawyer leaked it to CNN
  • Unfair to give one media outlet advantage over others, now only get 60 seconds then it is released to all
  • Immediacy v. accuracy
  • "Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2011"
  • Our culture determines need for cameras in the courtroom
  • Barriers like no wifi a problem, indpendent court reporters have costly transcripts
  • Media knows to be responsible when releasing video from inside the courtroom- if they show jury, they will lose the privilege to be there.
  • Not everything needs to be recorded- jury should be respected, coming to/from courtroom should be free in interference or pressure from media.

Panel Four: Fair Trial and Free Press- Dead or Alive?

  • Don't blame press, judge should control courtroom, press will push as far as they can
  • "Bench Bar Press" committees- in Washington State and California
  • Press dislikes it when lawyers and judges tell them what to do- press doesn't tell them what to do.
  • Lawyer/judges have professional responsibility and ethics rules- press does not have ethics rules, unless local. 
    • Shouldn't print rape victim's name, photos of the dead
    • Should say "alleged" suspect
    • Websites out there that will show/tell everything- not respectful, like Gawker or Deadspin
    • Those journalists that aren't respectful should be dealt with individually not just blame all media.
  • "Nutty bloggers in pajamas"
  • Trial judge and press officer for the court decide on who of the press gets seats in courtroom, mainstream media first
  • Can they really decide who gets put in what tier? What is the criteria? Who reaches the largest audience.
    • Suggestion- to look at proximity to case first, then audience, and includes all media (print, online, news, TV, etc.)
  • Doing voir dire based on Facebook page- not doing that is hurting their client
    • Lawyers have been doing this for years- just in a different way, "new wine, old bottle"
  • The challenge is to make these two constitutional guarantees work together and happen. 
    • There are different issues in each century for fair trial & free press, we must define these issues.

 

Overall the event was totally worth attending, and I'd be interested in attending it again next year if they decide to host a follow-up.

Want to read more about the event? Check out these blog posts: one from the ABA and another from AZ Attorney.

Thanks for reading!

Ice Cream Monday!

by Sarah Prosory 11. March 2011 11:00

PhoenixLaw Library presents,

Ice Cream Monday!

Image from Cold Stone Creamery

 

Come get delicious ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, provided by the Law Library.

A sweet treat to welcome you back from Spring Break!

The details:

Monday, March 14th

2:15pm to 3:45pm

Law Library, 2nd floor of the Tower

(like you don't know where we are!) :)

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