How many times on this site have we asked to call/write/fax/email ….somebody to urge them to do some good thing or other? And how many times have you rushed to the phones and then reported back your efforts in the comment threads? And how many times have you been disappointed and felt like you had no impact?
LHP waits patiently while readers make LONG lists.
OK, OK you can STOP now…. I think 10 pages, single spaced is more than adequate to make my point.
So, I thought you might be very pleasantly surprised by a little bit of news that came out… of the Federal Judicial Conference this week. You may recall that last week I told you that the Judicial Conference was considering a request (Presumably from DOJ) to limit Internet access to guilty plea information. A suggested excuse why this might be necessary was the creation of a really heinous and dangerous website called “whosarat” (please do NOT google and visit them–they don’t deserve the clicks) that lists the names of cooperating witnesses and undercover agents in a database that folks get to access for a fee. Because whosarat is a profit making entity, merely taking content off the Internet won’t even begin to stop them because it is worth the time and money to go down to the courthouse and hand copy the documents out of the file, just as it is worth for MSM to send reporters to do so when they want info.
The only entities who would have been hurt by that idea were regular citizens and citizen journalists like Marcy Wheeler, Jeralyn, Laura Rozen and TPM who have neither the resources nor the profit motive to go to far flung courthouses all over the country. Marcy has been doing some astounding investigative journalism working off information in court appearances by cooperating defendants and plea agreements which would not have been possible at all if she did not have web access to this info.
So I asked you to send comments to the Judicial Conference explaining why shutting down Internet access is not the solution to the whosarat problem and why citizens and citizen journalists really need as much Internet access to the courts as possible.
Why do I think that? Well, even though the comment period has not yet closed, just days after your write-in, the Judicial Conference announced THIS set of decisions.
I’ll wait while you read. Back now? Good.
Yep, you read that right. They have decided to go whole hog AND POST ALL THE TRIAL TRANSCRIPTS ONLINE. Do you know what a huge expensive commitment of resources that is? Transcripts used to cost us regular folks a fortune (remember Pach having to buy one of the early Libby transcripts? Hundreds of dollars for a single day’s worth of testimony). Now we can parse every minute of any trial we choose, in minute detail, to our heart’s content. Wait, wait –there’s more.
Last Thursday I attended an event with the “reporter” to the Conference explaining the changes to the Federal Rules that were coming down the pike. The reporter told the assembled lawyers (and judges) that the Conference, after much thought had come to the conclusion, that henceforth (and I wrote this quote down) “what’s public is public and that means on the Internet.” Say it with me folks, from now on the default setting of the entire federal court system will be—if you can get it at the courthouse you should be able to get it on the Internet.
Is the release of the wonderful announcement right after your comments were received a coincidence? I may never know for sure. But the timing looks deliciously like somebody heard you and believes in what you are doing out here on the net.
Don’t forget, it was the federal judiciary, during the Libby trial, which opened the door for DFH bloggers to be credentialed like other journalists and actually had a room set up to accommodate our connectivity needs.
So, if you ever get discouraged and think that what we are all trying to do never makes one whit of difference, pardon me while I disagree. I’m off to do the happy dance now.
[Note to dial up users: no links to PDFs or video. All links other than to Marcy and the FJC press release are internal FDL links]