SEPTEMBER 07, 2006
Judges in Florida have for years created secret dockets to hide the court cases of the rich and famous and now the state’s Supreme Court Chief Justice wants to end the unorthodox practice that he calls un-American.
Several counties throughout the state have a so-called secret judiciary, but Broward County in South Florida takes the cake with more than 400 divorce, negligence, malpractice and civil-fraud cases and an unknown number of criminal cases hidden from public view in Circuit Court since 1989. Many of those civil cases involved politicians, judges, lawyers, police officers or prominent businessmen.
Courts in Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Pinellas and Pasco counties have also hidden cases in the Sunshine State. This conflicts with two of the most basic tenets of this country’s judicial system; that courts are always open to the public and that they provide equal treatment to all. It is precisely why Chief Justice Fred Lewis http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/justices/lewis.shtml is working to outlaw the practice.
The veteran judge, who says he nearly “swallowed his tongue” when he first learned about this rampant practice in his state, says that the secrecy can fuel the perception that the rich, the famous and the politically connected get special treatment from the courts.
Even family court cases – nearly 3,000 of them–that were supposed to be sealed to protect sensitive information, were completely left off the public docket as if they didn’t exist. Evidently, this court secrecy is not limited to state court with one reporter’s organization claiming it is also commonplace in Florida’s Federal district courts.
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