• January 20, 2010

At today’s FBA luncheon, U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim (D. Minn.) walked the audience through a whirlwind of matters that have been or are catching the attention of the United States Courts’ Court Administration and Case Management Committee, on which Judge Tunheim has served for ten years, the past four as Chairman:

  • Cameras in the courtroom;
  • Audio recordings of hearings/trials;
  • Electronics policy (next generation of CM/ECF);
  • E-Government Act, transcripts, and privacy policy;
  • Courtroom Usage Study;
  • Data Storage & the National Archives;
  • Translation of Court Forms;
  • “Congested Courtrooms;” and 
  • Administration and policy regarding national security cases.

More elaboration after the break.
Cameras in the courtroom — obviously building on the recent brouhaha in the U.S. District Court in California and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling against allowing cameras in the courtroom, Judge Tunheim began his talk with a discussion of this issue, recognized that this issue has been brewing for some time, that Congress strongly favors cameras in the courtroom, and Judge Tunheim anticipates this will come to pass in time.

Audio recordings of hearings/trials — Pilot projects have been on-going.  They have gone very well.  Recordings were put on PACER in the GM and Chrylser bankruptcies and, in Judge Tunheim’s view, this was “very successful.”

Electronics policy (next generation of CM/ECF) — Judge Tunheim was very enthusiastic about the next generation of CM/ECF, calling it “fantastic.”  CM/ECF has been extremely useful for judges, apparently, in ways that it had not been designed for (case management) and the next version will accommodate this interest more fully.

E-Government Act, transcripts, and privacy policy — This is an area of on-going work for the CACM (“Kackum,” Court Administration and Case Management), as the government works to strike the appropriate balance between privacy concerns and the need for openness of government action.  Plea agreements and cooperation agreements seem to be particularly thorny areas for obvious reasons (privacy of third parties, preserving on-going criminal investigations, among other considerations, no doubt).

Courtroom Usage Study, Data Storage, and the National Archives — A theme of Judge Tunheim’s is that the U.S. Government is focused on cost savings wherever possible and branches of government are “cost centers,” each charged with lowering its costs.  Therefore, courts are challenged to justify why each judge should have his or her own courtroom.  The courts are essentially assessed “rent” for their courtrooms, which are deemed to be two stories for a single room, due to the high ceilings. Finally, there is a bit of an internal struggle, apparently, between the federal judiciary and the National Archives as to who will pay storage costs for old data that the judiciary no longer needs but the Archives wish to preserve.

Finally, as mentioned, Judge Tunheim touched on the issues of translation of court forms into languages other than English, congested courtrooms (i.e., courts in which cases are languishing for years undecided, in limbo) and policy regarding national security cases handled by the CACM.  As to national security cases, apparently the current policy dates back to Soviet spy trials and policy signed by Chief Judge Warren Burger.  We’re fighting new enemies these days and obviously adapting on a variety of fronts.

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