March 10, 2006

A SECRET DOCKET IN D.C. COURTS?

A prominent news media group is reporting that about 18 percent of the federal criminal docket in the District of Columbia is shielded from the public through a dual or “secret” docketing system.

The 11th and 2nd U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have ruled that secret docketing is unconstitutional. But the system has remained unchallenged in the nation’s capital.

In a study released this week, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says that, over a five-year period, D.C. defendants in more than 450 out of 2,600 criminal cases were indicted, tried, prosecuted and sentenced to jail in complete secrecy.

“I’m just flabbergasted with the numbers,” says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the reporters committee, which is based in Arlington, Va.

On the civil side, only 65 cases out of around 12,700 were found to have been removed from the docket. Many of those cases are presumed to be citizen whistle-blower suits, which are filed under seal for 60 days while the government investigates whether it should intervene as a plaintiff. Such filings are kept secret to make sure the defendant company is not alerted.

Dalglish and others suspect the undocketed criminal cases mainly involve drugs and gangs, with the government seeking to protect cooperating witnesses and negotiate plea deals.

Demonstrating once again that the War on Terror is less of a threat to civil liberties and justice than the War on Drugs. Or at least, if Bush were doing the same thing in the War on Terror, it would be a huge national scandal, while it gets very little attention since it’s just part of the Drug War.

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