Immigration Judicial Complaints Remain Cloaked

A federal judge has ruled that identities of Immigration Court judges targeted by misconduct complaints can remain secret, including information like gender and even location of the court. The National Law Journal reports that “… the immigration office disclosed 16,000 pages associated with 767 complaints in the lawsuit, filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in June 2013. The government released nonconfidential information from substantiated and unsubstantiated complaints. The names of individual judges were redacted.”
The government argued the public release of the judges’ names and other identifying information would infringe privacy interests. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper agreed, pointing out that the judges are career civil service employees and have privacy rights associated with that standing. That is a reference to Immigration Court judges not being “judges” in the typical sense, but are actually employees of the Justice Department.

Routine Juvenile Court Press Access Seems Doomed

A state appeals court has issued a tentative ruling that it will overturn an open-court decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court who had decreed that dependency hearings were “presumptively open” to the press. The issue has been highlighted by open-court advocates who argue that state oversight of child custody is of immense public interest.
On the other hand, social worker unions and others have argued that protecting the privacy of children is more important than open courts. For example, they argue, the presumption of an open court means families and attorneys would have to monitor courtrooms to see if media was present. The Los Angeles Times and the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law have filed briefs asking the appeals court to keep the hearings open.
In an L.A. Times report on the pending decision, which is open for more arguments later this month, the children’s institute director, Robert Fellmeth, said, “We fully agree that there are many instances where it’s appropriate to have confidentiality and protect vulnerable children from exposure. Nash’s order allowed that, liberally… what we oppose is the draconian cloak of secrecy that conceals this profound exercise in state parenting.”

Supreme Court Ranked As Nation’s Most Open

That move last year to post state Supreme Court judges’ financial records online has led to a top national ranking for California, although our “letter grade” was only a C. The Washington, D.C. based Center for Public Integrity awarded 43 sates an F.
Howard Mintz at the Contra Costa Times reported that “… California’s Supreme Court received particularly high marks for making financial information readily available to the public, the result of a move last year by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to require all of the state’s judges to post their financial information online. Some judges around the state had opposed the requirement, but it helped separate California from other less open states.” He also noted that little dust-up involving one justice who voted in favor of Wells Fargo even though she owned “between $100,000 and $1 million” worth of the bank’s stock.
California was also praised for the way it selects supreme court justices, who only face a “recall” election every 12 years as opposed to states that elect judges in head-to-head elections. Read the full report here.

Federal court to video-stream most important cases

The federal appeals court for California and other western states is expanding its Internet video streaming to include important cases heard by the full court, as opposed to lesser cases heard by panels of the full court. The Ninth Circuit, which usually meets in San Francisco and is known for allowing more media access than other courts, will broadcast five cases slated for oral arguments betweenDec. 9 and 11. It is believed that this is the first time a federal appellate court has allowed live broadcast of a proceeding.
“The Ninth Circuit has a long history of using advances in technology to make the court more accessible and transparent,” 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said in a statement. “Video streaming is a way to open the court’s doors even wider so that more people can see and hear what transpires in the courtroom, particularly in regard to some of our most important cases.” 
You can find Associated Press coverage of the decision, via the Mercury News, here.

Judicial Council ‘Open Meetings’ Plan Draws Complaints

It turns out that good news about open committee meetings at the California Judicial Council comes with at least 17 strings attached. That’s how many exceptions there are, including for issues like “consideration of raw data,” that would evade public eyes whenever the judges like.
Reporters and newspaper advocates are among those commenting on the rules, with court officials stressing that this is just an early draft. Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, told The Courthouse News that “… this is really open to wide discretion by whoever is on the committee… the exemptions they have created are very, very broad.”
The report also notes that “… the Judicial Council has a history of making decisions in closed-door committees followed by open Judicial Council sessions where the committee decisions are unanimously approved with little or no debate. Trial judges have said the council simply ‘rubber stamps’ the decisions made secretly by the committees.”
There’s more from Court House News here