Illinois Supreme Court orders trial judge to stop sealing all filings in high-profile murder case

Judge Vincent Gaughan, who is presiding over a high-profile case involving the police shooting death of teenager Laquan McDonald, ordered that the attorneys for both sides file all motions and briefs directly with him. Late last week, the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed with Gaughan’s policy, ordering the judge to stop requiring the sealing of all documents.

The media covering the case is understandably pleased with the ruling.

D.C. Circuit to begin live streaming oral arguments in September

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will begin live audio streaming of its oral arguments when its new term commences in September. Chief Judge Merrick Garland made the announcement. D.C. joins several other circuit courts that have recently embraced streaming technology in the interest of improved transparency.

I wonder if anyone at One First Street is paying attention.

The editorial drumbeat for courtroom cameras

In the wake of the Bill Cosby retrial, which was not televised due to a ban on cameras in Pennsylvania state courts, the Scranton Times-Tribune has editorialized:

[T]he fundamental premise of the United States is that it is a nation of laws — the notion that the law applies to everyone and that no one is beyond its reach. Yet the state government and in most cases, the federal government, regularly take passes on the opportunity to demonstrate that philosophy as it unfolds in the real world of the courtroom.

When a cultural figure like Cosby or a high-ranking public official, like former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, or an important civic issue such as taxation or gerrymandering ends up in court, cameras should be there to bring citizens into the courtroom to observe the process and watch history as it happens.

Courts long resisted cameras on grounds that they would be disruptive. But technology long ago resolved that problem. Pennsylvania and federal courts should allow televised trials and other proceedings. Doing so would enhance civics education at a time when it is sorely needed.

Meanwhile, UC Berkeley Dean Erwin Chemerinsky has made a similar argument with respect to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Not every courtroom needs a camera, and not every case or hearing is appropriate for public broadcast. But blanket prohibitions on cameras, especially with respect to cases of broad public interest, are increasingly difficult to justify.

Minnesota Supreme Court to hold public hearing on courtroom cameras

Today’s hearing on permitting cameras in criminal cases comes as the state’s courts and legislature split on courtroom transparency: the state supreme court has run a pilot program since 2015 and recently began live streaming its own oral arguments. But some legislators seem determined to restrict any broadcast of criminal proceedings.


Supreme Court to release same-day audio — in a single case. Oh, joy.

The Supreme Court has announced that it will release same-day audio of April 25’s oral argument in the travel ban case. Normally audio is not released until the end of the week, but in rare cases the Court has agreed to release it the same day.

Thus continues the Court’s counterproductive policy of keeping oral argument out of public view. We should be long past the days when the general public has to rely on the Court’s feigned generosity to be able to observe and hear arguments as they happen. A single camera in the back of the courtroom, live-broadcasting the arguments without additional commentary (something CSPAN perfected two generations ago), is all that is needed.

The ongoing ban on cameras forces reporters to take notes and rush to get information to the public after the argument has concluded. This compromises accuracy, undermines efficiency, and harms transparency — the key sources of the Court’s public legitimacy. When will the Court will finally out an end to this self-inflicted wound?

Judge denies stay of injunction in Cook County records case; defendants appeal to the Seventh Circuit

This blog has been following a First Amendment challenge to the filing practices in the Cook County (Illinois) courts. In November, the Courthouse News Service filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that Cook County was violating the First Amendment by denying the press and the public immediate access to electronically filed civil cases. In January, the federal district court agreed, and issued an injunction giving the Cook County Clerk’s Office 30 days to implement a new procedure.

That procedure has yet to be implemented, and the federal district court has twice rejected motions to stay the injunction. Now the clerk’s office has appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the federal courts never should have heard the case under the abstention doctrine announced in Younger v. Harris. No word yet from the Seventh Circuit.

I have more extensive thoughts on this entire lawsuit here.

Minnesota seeks public comment on broadcasting of criminal proceedings

In 2015, the Minnesota Supreme Court authorized a pilot program to allow limited audio and video coverage of criminal proceedings in the state trial courts. The pilot ended in December, and the state’s advisory committee on criminal rules has recommended that the pilot procedures be adopted permanently.  The Supreme Court is now seeking public comment on this proposal.

Comments are due by March 25, and a hearing will be held in April.