Court websites should not link to news articles on pending cases – The D.C. Courts website so links

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Oct 28, 2012 Court websites should not link to news articles on pending cases – The D.C. Courts website so links

UPDATE: December 11, 2012. The problem discussed below has now been solved. I circulated my foregoing blog entry to various colleagues after posting it, figuring that fixing the problem might be more likely and quick by my joining with others of like minds. Curiously, my blog post received the most support from members of the Trial Lawyers Association of the District of Columbia, which I had not associated as being a very activist group other than in advocating for laws and court procedures benefiting personal injury victims.

A bar leader and TLA-DC member, of his own volition, called an administrator involved with the courts website. The administrator said that news of pending cases would be removed, but a stream of news links continued about arrests (without counterbalancing links explaining the presumption of innocence and other basic rights of criminal defendants) and trial court results (despite the possibility that such cases will come back to trial if successful on appeal). Another leader in the TLA-DC spoke with an administrative judge of the Superior Court and forwarded my emaled ongoing concerns to the judge. Within short order thereafter, the courts’ website stopped posting links about arrests, pending cases, and case results. The administrative judge called me and said he agrees with my view on this, and welcomes viewpoints on other matters involving the court’s functions. Thanks deeply to the TLA-DC members who joined in the effort to fix this problem, and thanks to the administrative judge who listened and helped get the problem fixd.

It might feel invigorating to engage in efforts like Michael Moore’s to even get an audience with General Motors’ chief (never materialized) in Roger and Me, but is all the more effective when those in power actually listen, avoid ivory towers and make changes when they agree that changes are due.

Court websites are official voices and should be closely monitored by the judges running the courts.

Sadly, the District of Columbia’s courts Internet front webpage leads off with a running feed of articles from newspapers and blogs not only about completed cases, but even about pending cases, including criminal cases, in which  all defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence. Courts should say nothing nothing about pending cases — to do otherwise creates additional problems obtaining impartial juries, for starters — other than the assigned judges’ words in the courtroom and in official court filings, and in making case files, dockets and schedules available to the public. Here is an image that I have archived of today’s page: .

The running articles feed on the D.C. courts website either is automatically generated (which may be the case, considering that the newsfeed this morning includes a Saturday, October 27 article link (that is, not from a business day)) — which prevents quality control issues. If the court’s website producers are specifically selecting such links to be posted online, that appears to be a misallocated use of their time.

Here is a sample of links on the courts’ newsfeed this morning that should not be there:

– A link (apparently a dead or incorrect link to the Post at that) to a Washington Post article on jury deliberations in the criminal trial of a police officer prosecuted for shooting into a car. Trial judges admonish jurors not to pay attention nor read about news coverage of the cases the jurors are considering. What if a juror visited the courts’ website pending deliberations to get the phone number of the jury office, only to find the link to the foregoing story. Would the juror then think that the trial judge could not have seriously meant to prohibit the jurors from reviewing coverage of jurors’ trials if the courts website itself linked to such news coverage?

– A Homicide Watch blogpost on a recent homicide arrest, that then affords the reader to roam further around this blog that purports to report on all city homicides. Absent from the courts’ newslink are any links about the rights of criminal defendants and criminal suspects from civil liberties group and criminal defense groups. The courts are not providing balanced links to online stories, particularly when law and order folks (including bloggers, police and prosecutors) are commenting in the stories being linked on the courts website.

– A Washington Post blog entry about a recent arrest for a deadly shooting at Gallaudet University.

– A Washington Post article on a libel suit recently filed by a professor.

– A Washington Post blog entry on a recent arrest in another shooting death.

– Additionally, here is a Washington Blade article on the conviction of a police officer for shooting into a car occupied by three transgendered woman and two male friends. What if the officer wins a retrial on appeal? The press has the full Constitutional right to print stories on court cases and anything else. The courts are not in the business of posting links to newspaper articles.

– In addition, the courts’ website links to a article on cameras in the D.C. appellate courtroom that can only be read in its entirety by registering (which perhaps means paying) for a password.

I plan to send a note or email to D.C.’s administrative appellate and trial judges alerting them to the foregoing practice on the D.C. courts’ website, dissenting from it, and asking that it stop.

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