Thursday, July 16, 2009

...more court shenanigans

Turns out that story about the lawyer and his shoes is more interesting than I thought. The link I included then links to a Palm Beach newspaper, where we have the following two articles:

It appears that the discussion of the first article about the shoes of the defense attorney gave him the out to claim a mistrial on the basis that he was defamed by the article.

There's a lot going on here. The hand-wavers claim that the issue at hand is the dissemination of information about the case. The writer points out that this information is not private:

"Why? Because the court's are open to the public, and with rare exceptions, what goes on in the courthouse is not subject to whims of trial participants who may or may not want anybody looking over their shoulders."

Anything that's filed in the clerk's office and not marked specifically confidential is public record. The fact that people don't generally know, and that they don't walk down to the courthouse and inspect those public records, does not mean that publishing those records is a bad idea, or that the case "should" be closed before that information is revealed. Public inspection of those records has always been central to the very creation of these local offices, and the fact that it's inconvenient to carry out those inspections is probably a bad thing, not a convenience or a quality to be lauded.

There's another claim here, that the writer was wrong to publish anything about the case, and that it was his responsibility to prevent the jurors from seeing the article.

Lastly, I think the writer does a great job of pointing out that the defense attorney was simply using the tools and circumstance available to him to avoid a $2.2 million personal injury verdict. Because he's smart, and that's his job.

I find it hard to believe that the defense attorney would stand behind his assertion of defamation in any other circumstance, given his initial reaction to the writer. Also the fact that this was circulating around the legal community well before the writer posted his article, really leads me to think that the legal community thrives on a false secrecy, and would really prefer court proceedings to be completely confidential to protect themselves.

What would happen if the public at-large inspected these records regularly? I suspect we would have a more accountable legal system, they way it was intended.

Julie Pickett-Hall

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