Monday, March 22, 2010

Transparency In The Federal Courts?

I've known for years that United States District Judge Robert N. Chatigny would not preside over cases of mine. And it hasn't bothered me one whit. I've not really been curious about the reasons, either. Gratitude was my only reaction: I'd rather sun bathe in a meat locker than try a case in his courtroom.

I remain grateful, but I do confess to becoming curious when Chatigny was nominated for a seat on the Second Circuit. What piqued my interest was reading his questionnaire prepared for the Senate. The questionnaire is posted on the Senate Judiciary Committee's web page.

I learned that the District of Connecticut has a recusal policy, and that judges can list those folks on whose cases they won't sit. In judge Chatigny's case, that list included "certain lawyers."

Who else is on the judge's list?m I wondered. A paralegal called the court to request a copy of the list. We were told the list is confidential. So we sent in a Freedom of Information Act request.

"The courts of the United States are specifically exempted from the requirements of the FOIA by 5 U.S.C. Section 551(1)(b). and I am unaware of any other applicable statute or regulation that would require disclosure of the requested information," the clerk rights.

I understand the application of various privileges, such as one covering deliberative processes. But this seems a little too broad a sweep. Has Congress really granted a blanket exemption from transparency? Isn't that taking the Oz metaphor a little too far?