About transcripts of federal court hearings

Sometimes I have seen claims on lenr-forum.com that the public can obtain transcripts of court hearings by paying for them. I may have said this myself, here, because the filings imply this. However, during the 90 day period before hearing transcripts are published to PACER, it appears that only parties and attorneys may obtain transcripts, they are limited:

During the 90-day period (which may be extended by the court), access to the transcript in CM/ECF is restricted to court staff, public terminal users, attorneys of record or parties who have purchased the transcript from the court reporter/transcriber, and other persons as directed by the court (e.g., appellate attorneys). Also, during this time, parties may redact personal identifiers. After the 90-day period has ended, the filed transcript will be available for inspection and copying in the clerk’s office and for download from the court’s CM/ECF system through the judiciary’s PACER system.

Just as any member of the public may attend the actual hearings, any member of the public may use the “public terminal” in the court to read the transcript.

There are two obvious concerns. First of all, a hearing transcript may reveal personal information, that could be redacted. This is covered by Privacy Policy for Electronic Case Files. The court will not publish the files, other than on the public terminal — which does not allow printing, but, ah, google glass? — ; however, the concerns are to have been addressed within 31 days of the filing of the transcript. Even short of that, it is unclear that publication by an attorney (i.e., providing the transcript to media), if any private data has been redacted, would be a violation. American Bar has a discussion.

The personal identifiers to be redacted are Social Security numbers, names of minor children, financial account numbers, dates of birth, and, in criminal cases, home addresses2.

This brings up the other concern, an attempt to influence the case by “extrajudicial” comment.

Several topics presumed prejudicial to proceedings relate specifically to criminal proceedings. This reflects the comment’s recognition that certain types of proceedings, notably civil matters triable to a jury, criminal matters, and matters that could result in incarceration, are particularly likely to be prejudiced by extrajudicial statements. See Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 3.6 cmt. [6]. These concerns further explain the additional limits on extrajudicial comments (discussed below) that Model Rule 3.8(f) imposes on prosecutors.

Statements Presumed Not Likely to Create Material Prejudice
While the comment sets forth a list of topics presumed to create prejudice, Model Rule 3.6(b) itself provides a “safe harbor” of statements that a lawyer can publish with considerably less concern about whether a pending adjudication may be substantially prejudiced. According to Model Rule 3.6(b), and the majority of comparable state rules, there are seven categories of information that presumably may be disclosed publicly:

the claim, offense, or defense involved and, except when prohibited by law, the identity of the persons involved;
information contained in a public record;
that an investigation of a matter is in progress;
the scheduling or result of any step in litigation;
a request for assistance in obtaining evidence and information necessary thereto;
a warning of danger concerning the behavior of a person involved, when there is reason to believe that there exists the likelihood of substantial harm to an individual or to the public interest; and
in a criminal case, in addition to subparagraphs (1) through (6): (i) the identity, residence, occupation, and family status of the accused;
(ii) if the accused has not been apprehended, information necessary to aid in apprehension of that person;
(iii) the fact, time, and place of arrest; and
(iv) the identity of investigating and arresting officers or agencies and the length of the investigation.

This list is not intended to be an exhaustive list of topics on which extrajudicial statements are permitted. Rather, Model Rule 3.6(b) is intended only to provide lawyers with a list of categories they can discuss publicly with little fear of violating the rules of professional conduct. See Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 3.6 cmt. [4]. For an interesting case discussing application of the safe harbor where a lawyer effectively paraphrases statements in the public record, see PCG Trading, LLC v. Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, 460 Mass. 265, 951 N.E.2d 315 (Mass. 2011).

Is the transcript “information contained in a public record”? Any member of the public may access the transcript. The intention is to avoid revelation of private information, on the one hand, and to avoid prejudice, but this is being balanced with the right of the public to know, and of media to report on the proceedings. Media could send a reporter to the hearing, who could take notes (even verbatim notes if the reporter has that skill, i.e., the skills possessed by an old-fashioned court reporter or stenographer). See Media rules and also General Order 58.

A related concern is that transcripts may contain information that could not be presented to a jury as evidence. However, if it is public record, too bad. A party may request the court to redact anything prejudicial, it is not routine.

So to the present practical reality. It has been claimed that IH is attempting to dominate discussion of the case, while there is no evidence for that.

The argument is that IH would want to appear to the public as the “savior” of LENR. However, sending stooges to the blogs is a very poor way to do that; they could simply issue press releases with facts that are already public record. If they were interested in astroturfing — the definition of which does not resemble anything operative in Rossi v. Darden — there are other actions they could take. How about sending gobs of money to, say, LENRIA or Infusion Institute Inc.? Hint! So far, not a penny to III from IH or anyone reasonably accusable of being an IH stooge. As far as I know, no supporter of III has received any benefit other than information from IH or IH employees or contractors.

I’ll be setting up crowdfunding, though, and there would be no way to prevent such contributions, but … I would certainly disclose any attempt to prejudice my reporting.

(Setting up organizations that pretend to be grass-roots movements but that are actually under the influence and control of the master organization, for the purpose of influencing legislation, through letter-writing campaigns, was “astroturfing,” and that still goes on, but has nothing to do with LENR or Rossi v. Darden. Example, APCO apparently advised the tobacco industry, their clients, to set up such organizations, to pretend that there was a mass movement to protect the rights of smokers — to kill themselves with cigarettes without being informed about the involved science. There are anti-AGW organizations now that are reasonably considered astroturfing, but not all anti-AGW comment is from such, and, in the end, it shouldn’t matter if legislators keep their eye on the ball. On the other hand, if the legislator is corrupt, influenced by campaign donations, always a worry, and lazy, i.e., doesn’t verify the alleged public stand but uses it as an excuse, astroturfing could work.)

Any party could reveal transcripts extrajudicially, bearing in mind the limitations and rules, but, to my knowledge, no party has done so. Publishing excerpts from hearings, as evidence for motions, has been routinely done when relevant. That is not “extrajudicial.” If I were in Florida, I could go to the public terminal and take notes, it appears that this does not violate the rules.

I find it all quite odd, because notes can be inaccurate and biased, and as a non-party and non-attorney, I could not be readily sanctioned for publishing my notes. What would make much more sense would be an accelerated schedule for the public availability of transcripts. There seems to be no stated justification for that requiring 90 days.

Suppose the public sees that some party is being unfairly treated in court. The public could intervene by donating to a defense fund, for example. However, if the transcripts that might show this are not available until, say, after the trial, not to mention all the pretrial maneuvering, the right of the public, the very purpose of requiring public access, is frustrated and only useful for possible appellate review, which can be too late for some important issues.

As part of searching for sources for information on this issue, I found no example of sanctions for public review not showing some egregious violation. The case cited above, PCG Trading, LLC v. Seyfarth Shaw, LLP , involved a denial of an appearance pro hoc vice based on an alleged comment in a law review article. In the end, this denial was rejected by the appeals court, because it fell within the “safe harbor,” in the judgment of that court. Remarkable case: there what stands out is an attorney (Seyfarth Shaw) with an undisclosed conflict of interest who screwed his client over by filing a motion to dismiss a case against the other client. That motion was then used as evidence to allow a filing against his continued client.

I did find a remarkable case where an attorney was sanctioned for uncivil behavior. That was extreme behavior compared to anything I’ve seen in this case, though I’ve seen what could be called uncollegial behavior, aggressive toward opposing attorneys, accusing them of misconduct, and the ruling on that case distinguishes between aggressive promotion of a client’s interests and incivility. What I find especially remarkable in this case was that the respondent blamed others for his own out-of-control behavior. They made him do it, by being such assholes. (including all the other involved attorneys and any judge that ruled against his arguments.) I kid you not. Who could blame him for shouting, in the presence of such extreme provocation? Remarkably, a referee determined a 90 day suspension. It appears that the attorney contested it instead of entering a consent order. The court upped it to two years, more than the Bar Association had requested (one year), required that respondent appear in court for a public reprimand, set up an 18-month probation on the end of the suspension, and recommended (perhaps required) counselling. And this was two strikes, three and additional sanctions would be applied. Disbarment. I hope that the fellow took this seriously. What I know about making mistakes like his is that if one declares and stands for responsibility, it can all go away, eventually. He’d become a more effective attorney. His attempts to blame others were the giveaway that this was not some accident. This also is not just about behavior in Court, this applies to life as a whole.

I also found reference to a case regarding how an attorney is to act if the attorney discovers perjury on the part of the client. It was an extreme case.

 

 

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Author: Abd ulRahman Lomax

See http://coldfusioncommunity.net/biography-abd-ul-rahman-lomax/

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